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What is Polio?

Polio (poliomyelitis) is a vaccine preventable disease.  It is a potentially deadly disease caused by the poliovirus.  It is very contagious. Canada has been certified “polio-free”  since 1994 thanks to our vaccination program.  

 

How is it spread?

Polio is spread person to person usually by eating or drinking contaminated food or water (fecal-oral transmission). For example, an unvaccinated traveller in a country where polio has not been eliminated,  there is poor sanitation and poor personal hygiene,   may come in contact with polio virus.

Polio can also be spread person to person from nose and throat fluids. An example would be when an infected person sneezed or coughed.

Someone who has polio can spread the virus to others  30 days before and about 1 to 2 weeks after symptoms appear. The virus can live in an infected person’s poop (feces) for  3-6 weeks.

Polio only infects humans.

 

What are the symptoms?

Most people have no visible symptoms. It may take up to 35 days for symptoms to appear.
 

Mild symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue (feeling really tired)
  • Sore throat
  • Stiffness in the neck
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

 

Severe cases of polio affect the brain and spinal cord. They may include:

  • Feeling pins and needles in the legs (paresthesia)
  • Inability to move body parts (paralysis)
  • Infection of the covering of the spinal cord and brain (meningitis)
  • May cause death

 

What are the complications?

Polio can attach the central nervous system and destroy nerves that make muscles move.  This may cause the person to be paralyzed or even the person to die.

 

Who is at risk?

Children under 5 years old have the highest risk. Infection with polio and it’s complications (paralysis and or death) can happen to anyone not vaccinated. Travellers may be at risk. Discuss your travel plans with your health care provider.  Three countries are still considered high risk, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

 

Is there treatment?

If someone has polio, the goal of treatment is to try to relieve (improve) the symptoms. There is no cure for polio.

 

How can Polio be prevented?

Vaccination is the best way to prevent polio. Polio vaccines are safe and effective. Polio vaccination is included in a combination vaccine given routinely in Ontario.

 

Health Care Providers

Suspected cases are reportable to the Health Unit immediately by telephone. 

*Please note acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) became reportable in Ontario in 2013 in an attempt to identify cases of AFP and to investigate all reported cases for evidence to rule out polio.