Introduction     Reproduction     Pregnancy     During Pregnancy
    Birth     Postnatal     Childhood Illness     Glossary A-Z

   Childhood Illness
 Ear, Nose & Throat
 Eye Disorders
 Mental Health
Viral Infections in Childhood: Polio


Polio or poliomyelitis is an infectious viral disease of the central nervous system. The greatest incidence of the disease, also known as infantile paralysis, is in children between the ages of 5 and 10 years.
Because of the widespread use of polio vaccines, wild poliovirus (i.e. not due to the vaccine) has not been found in the Western Hemisphere since 1991. The World Health Organization has set the goal of eliminating poliovirus world-wide by the year 2000. The disease is most prevalent in areas of Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.

Symptoms and Signs

Most infections are subclinical, having no symptoms, or abortive (not completely developed), which causes slight fever, malaise, headache, sore throat, and vomiting.

Major polio involves the central nervous system and takes two forms:

  • Nonparalytic , with moderate fever, headache, vomiting, lethargy, irritability, and pain in the neck, back, arms, legs, and abdomen; and
  • Paralytic , with the same symptoms as nonparalytic plus asymmetrical muscle weakness, loss of reflexes, urine retention, constipation, a tingling or burning sensation on the skin, and paralysis.
Diagnosis and Treatment

Arm or leg paralysis but no numbness; analysis of cerebrospinal fluid for protein level through lumbar puncture. Diagnosis is confirmed by identifying poliovirus in a stool sample and detecting high levels of antibodies to the virus in the blood.
Treatment is for the problems polio may cause, rather than for the polio itself.
Two types of vaccine are available: an inactivated poliovirus vaccine ( Salk vaccine ) given by injection and a live poliovirus vaccine ( Sabin vaccine ) taken orally. The live oral vaccine provides better immunity and is usually preferred but can, in very rare cases, cause polio in people with a weakened immune system and so is not given to these people or those who will be around such people.

Postpoliomyelitis Syndrome

An estimated 20 to 40% of patients who initially recover from poliomyelitis later develop post-polio syndrome (PPS). Appearing an average of 30 to 40 years after the initial illness, PPS causes fatigue, muscle weakness, and muscle and joint pain. These symptoms often worsen after exercise. Some patients also have trouble breathing or swallowing and suffer from muscle twitches and other symptoms. Although PPS is not life threatening, it can severely limit a patient's lifestyle and mobility, making it difficult for the patient to continue a job or carry out daily activities. Scientists do not know what causes PPS, and there is no cure. Rest, over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers, physical therapy, and devices such as canes and wheelchairs help patients control their symptoms.

The information in this page is presented in summarised form and has been taken from the following source(s):
1., Children's Health Section:
2. Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopaedia, ©1997-2000 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. 2000:

Other HON resources 
   From MedHunt

Polio in Children
Postpoliomyelitis Syndrome
    From HONselect
     (def;articles & more)   


Postpoliomyelitis Syndrome

    Recent articles

Postpoliomyelitis Syndrome


About us

Site map




Contact Last modified: Jun 25 2002