What is polio?

Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious disease caused by the polio virus. It invades the nervous system, and can cause paralysis or even death in a matter of hours.

How is polio transmitted?

 Wild poliovirus (WPV) enters the body through the mouth, in water or food that has been contaminated with faecal material from an infected person. The virus multiplies in the intestine and is excreted by the infected person in faeces, which can pass on the virus to others.

What are the symptoms of polio?

 Initial symptoms of polio are:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Stiffness in the neck
  • Pain in the limbs.


Who is at risk of catching polio?

Polio mainly affects children under 5 years of age.

What are the effects of polio?

The effects of polio are:

One in every 200 persons infected with polio leads to irreversible paralysis (usually in the legs). Among those paralysed, 5%-10% die when their breathing muscles are immobilized by the virus.

Is there a cure for polio?

No, there is no cure for polio. Polio can only be prevented by immunization. A safe and effective vaccine exists - the oral polio vaccine (OPV). OPV is essential protection for children against polio. Given multiple times, it protects a child for life.

Why do polio vaccinators come directly to people's houses?

Driving out polio means immunizing every child under the age of five. And for full immunity against polio, children must receive the polio vaccine multiple times. Vaccinators go house-to-house to make sure that every child gets the chance to receive the vaccine during every round of immunization campaigns - including children who may not normally be within reach of health services.

What is the Acute Flaccid Paralysis Surveillance?

The Acute Flaccid Paralysis Surveillance system is a critical part of the protection available for families against polio. If a child suddenly shows signs of a floppy, or weak arm or leg, health authorities should be informed immediately so that a sample of the child's faeces can be taken for analysis and the child can get proper treatment. It is very important to act fast – polio is VERY infectious.

How does environmental surveillance help to detect polio?

Environmental surveillance can point to ongoing circulation of the poliovirus even when no cases have been reported. Sewage samples are taken from designated sites and tested for poliovirus. This is particularly useful given that only one in 200 people infected with polio display any symptoms.

Why is so much focus placed on polio, but not on other diseases?

Polio is one of only a few diseases which can be completely eradicated, such as was the case with smallpox. By eradicating polio, children across the entire world will benefit, and no child need ever again know the pain of polio-paralysis. Most diseases, such as HIV and malaria for example, cannot be eradicated, because the tools to eradicate these are not available. Polio does not have an intermediate host (i.e. it does not affect animals, and the virus cannot live in animals, such as malaria for example in mosquitoes), a safe and effective vaccine is available to protect children from polio, it does not survive for extended periods of time in the environment, and while it is contagious, its infection period is relatively short.

Polio eradication activities are also strengthening routine health services. Thanks to polio eradication activities, an active disease surveillance network has been established in all countries, into which other diseases – including measles – are now being integrated. Polio eradication infrastructure is also used for the provision of other health services such as deworming tablets, vitamin A and bednets.

Why are children given oral polio vaccines?

Polio vaccine is the only protection against polio, a paralysing disease for which there is no cure. It is essential that every child under five is immunized against polio.

Does the oral polio vaccine have any side effects?

The oral polio vaccine is one of the safest vaccines ever developed. It is so safe it can be given to sick children and newborns. It has been used all over the world to protect children against polio, saving at least 5 million children from permanent paralysis by polio. On extremely rare occasions, the attenuated virus in oral polio vaccine can mutate and regain virulence. However, CHILDREN ARE FAR MORE AT RISK FROM POLIO THAN ANY SIDE EFFECTS FROM THE POLIO VACCINE.