Polio (poliomyelitis) is a highly contagious viral infection caused by a type of enterovirus. It is characterized by paralysis or weakness in arms, legs or both. There have been no cases of wild type polio acquired in the U.S. since 1979.
People who are not vaccinated can get polio at any age.
People who have polio can spread it to others through their feces on hands or objects. It is important to wash your hands frequently, especially after using the bathroom or changing diapers. It is also possible to spread the virus through saliva and respiratory droplets.
A person can spread the virus before and up to two weeks after they first have symptoms. However, patients can spread disease as long as the virus is in their feces or saliva. It can spread from people even if they do not have any symptoms.
The most important way for children and adults to protect themselves from polio is to get vaccinated right away, if they have not received all recommended polio vaccine doses. With polio circulating in New York, it is urgent that all eligible children and adults are vaccinated.
Children should get four doses of poliovirus vaccine, starting at age 2 months. People starting the vaccine series after age 4 should receive a total of three doses. People starting the vaccine series after age 4 should receive a total of three doses. Most adults in the U.S. do not need to be vaccinated against polio again because they were already vaccinated as children.
In the U.S., you can get the inactivated polio vaccine. This vaccine is safe and effective. Side effects are mild, including soreness of the arm or leg at the injection site. It cannot give you polio or cause paralysis.
A different polio vaccine, taken orally, has not been available in the U.S. since 2000, but it may still be used in other countries. This oral vaccine contained a weakened strain of the virus that causes polio. This strain has changed over time and now behaves similarly to a wild type polio infection — spreading easily among people who are not vaccinated and causing illness, including paralysis. The inactivated polio vaccine offered in the U.S. protects against both wild type polio and this weakened strain.
If you or your child are not vaccinated yet, talk to a health care provider. If you do not have a provider, call 311 or 844-NYC-4NYC (844-692-4692) for help finding one.
Also, children ages 4 years and older can get their vaccine at the NYC Health Department’s Fort Greene Health Center. Appointments are required.
People who were vaccinated as children and plan to travel to a country where there is a risk of exposure to poliovirus should get a one-time booster.
Most people infected with the virus do not have any symptoms. One in four people with an infection will have flu-like symptoms, such as:
One in 25 people with an infection will get viral meningitis, and about one in 200 people will have paralysis.
Symptoms may start to appear three to six days after exposure. Paralysis can occur between seven and 21 days after exposure.
Polio can leave you permanently unable to move parts of your body. It most commonly paralyzes the legs. In severe cases, polio can paralyze the muscles you use to breathe or swallow. This can cause death.
There is no specific medicine for polio treatment. If you or a family member get polio, a health care provider can help you address symptoms and complications of the disease.