What is Poliomyelitis?

Poliomyelitis, more commonly known as polio, is a viral disease that is very contagious.  It can cause difficulty breathing, paralysis, and even death in its most severe form.  There has been a major effort to rid the world of polio but it still affects children and adults in Africa, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.  In the US, there has not been a naturally occurring case of poliomyelitis since 1979.  Vaccinations are the main reason that incidents of poliomyelitis have drastically decreased.

What are the Symptoms of Poliomyelitis?

Many people with poliomyelitis do not even know that they have it and do not even become sick; however, there is a chance that they can develop either non-paralytic polio or paralytic polio and experience strong symptoms.

Non-paralytic polio does not lead to paralysis and has symptoms that are very much like a typical viral flu.  They include sore throat, fever, vomiting, headache, tiredness, body pain and stiffness and weakness.  They symptoms are usually gone within 10 days.

Paralytic polio is rare and can affect the spinal cord, brainstem or even both.  The beginning signs mimic that of non-paralytic polio but the symptoms get worse.  After about a week there may be increased muscle weakness and aches, loss of reflexes, and flaccid paralysis (loose or floppy limbs) which is sometimes worse on one side of the body.

Poliomyelitis Causes

Poliomyelitis, commonly called polio, is a disease that only affects humans. It is a virus that is present in an infected person’s feces and is transferred from the feces to the mouth through casual contact. It is also spread through infected phlegm or mucus coming into contact with others. This disease is highly contagious, and anyone who lives with an infected patient can expect to become infected as well.

Due to the fact that the virus is present in the feces, this disease is more common in areas that don’t have modern sanitation. When water becomes contaminated with the virus through sewage being released into those waters, those who rely on the water can become infected. Food that has been made with contaminated water or that has come into contact with an infected person can also transmit this illness. Infected patients shed the virus through their feces for several weeks, making them contagious long after they are infected. Those who are infected may not display any symptoms.

Poliomyelitis Prevention

In most countries today, poliomyelitis has been eradicated thanks to the widespread use of an effective vaccine. However, not everyone is medically able to get this vaccine, and there are still areas of the world where there are patients infected with polio. One of the best ways to prevent a polio infection is to avoid areas where the disease is still present. If you have not been immunized against polio, read travel warnings about current outbreaks of the disease. Non-immunized people should practice good hygiene when traveling through any country without a polio immunization policy. Avoiding countries with poor sanitation is also one of the best preventative methods. Those who have not been immunized should not care for patients who are infected with the virus. People with a compromised immune system are particularly vulnerable to infection. Those who have had their tonsils removed and have not been vaccinated against polio have an increased risk of contracting it during travel.

How is Poliomyelitis Treated?

There is currently no cure for polio so treatment solely focuses on making the patient comfortable and minimizing complications.  This can mean pain relievers and bed rest or it may include ventilators to make breathing easier.  Physical therapy may be used to decrease the loss of muscle functions.  A nutritious diet may also be part of the treatment plan.

Last Reviewed:
September 14, 2016
Last Updated:
January 09, 2018