Poliomyelitis: Causes, Signs and Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment

Poliomyelitis, commonly known as polio, is an infectious disease caused by the poliovirus. It invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours.


The poliovirus is easily spread from person to person through a fecal-oral route. It enters the body through the mouth and spreads to the intestines, where it multiplies. The virus can spread from an infected person through direct contact with the saliva, mucus, or feces, or through contact with contaminated surfaces, such as a doorknob or countertop. Everyone is at risk for polio, but small children are at greatest risk.

Signs and Symptoms

Most people infected with the poliovirus do not experience any symptoms at all. For those who do, the symptoms usually appear in three to 21 days after infection. The first symptoms are usually fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, constipation or abdominal pain, and a slight stiff neck. In a small percentage of cases, the infection can affect the brain and spinal cord. This can lead to paralysis, most often in the legs, but in some cases in the arms or other muscles. Paralysis may be total or partial, and is often permanent.


The most effective way to protect yourself and your family from polio is to get vaccinated. The polio vaccine is a safe and effective way to prevent the disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that all children everywhere should receive 3 doses of the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV): at age two months, at four months, and at 18 months. It is also important to practice good hygiene and hand-washing to prevent the spread of the virus.


Unfortunately, there is no cure for polio. Treatment is focused on managing the symptoms and preventing further damage. In the case of paralysis, physical therapy may be needed to strengthen weakened muscles and prevent joint contractures. In some cases, the polio virus can cause permanent paralysis or even death. In these cases, supportive care can help manage the condition and make living with polio easier.