Poliomyelitis (Polio)


Polio, short for poliomyelitis, is a disease that can damage the nervous system and cause paralysis. Since polio immunization has become widespread in the United States, cases of polio are rare. However, polio remains a problem in many parts of the world.

Polio is reportable to the Iowa Department of Public Health by Iowa Administrative Code 641 IAC 1.


The majority of persons infected with polio will have no symptoms. Of those infected who do have symptoms, the symptoms are minor and may include fever, fatigue, nausea, headache, flu-like symptoms, stiffness in the neck and back, and pain in the limbs which often resolves completely. Fewer than one percent of polio cases result in permanent paralysis of the limbs (usually the legs). Of those paralyzed, 5-10% die when the paralysis strikes the respiratory muscles.


Polio is usually spread from person-to-person primarily through the fecal-oral route. The virus is transmitted from the stool of an infected person to the mouth of another person from contaminated hands or such objects as eating utensils. Some cases may be spread directly through the oral-oral route.

Risk Factors

Polio is more common in infants and young children and occurs under conditions of poor hygiene. However, complications and more severe infection are more likely to occur in older individuals.


There are two types of vaccine that can prevent polio: inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) and oral polio vaccine (OPV). IPV has been used in the United States since 2000; however OPV is still used throughout much of the world although it is no longer available in the United States.

All infants should get the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) unless they have a medical reason not to. A primary series of IPV consists of three properly spaced doses, usually given at two months, four months, and 6-18 months. A booster dose is given at 4-6 years (before or at school entry). Polio vaccine is not routinely recommended for those > 18 years unless there is potential for exposure. Adults that should consider vaccination include: Laboratory workers who handle poliovirus; Healthcare workers caring for polio patients; and Persons traveling to regions of the world where polio is endemic or epidemic.


There is no specific treatment for polio. Persons infected with polio need supportive therapy, such as bed rest and fluids.

Additional Resources