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What is it? What are the symptoms? What are the treatments?

What is polio?

Polio, short for poliomyelitis, is a highly infectious virus. Once a common childhood illness, it can have devastating effects. Since the introduction of a vaccine in 1955 polio has been eradicated in the UK, with no reported cases since 1998. It's spread by contact with faeces, which is why it's still a considerable problem particularly in some parts of the world where sanitation can be poor.

The fact that polio has been eradicated in the UK shows how important it is for as many people as possible to take up the childhood immunisation programme. It's estimated that at least 95% of the population needs to be vaccinated against polio in order for it to remain contained.

What are the symptoms of Polio?

When it does occur, it can range in severity. Polio usually presents with unexplained weakness or paralysis in the limbs and causes flu-like symptoms including:

  • sore throat
  • high fever (38°C or above)
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • constipation.
The symptoms usually occur between 3-21 days after being infected. In some cases, the virus attacks the nervous system, damaging nerve cells, causing muscles to waste and, in some cases, resulting in paralysis of the limbs. In some people it causes serious breathing and swallowing problems, and can be fatal.

What are the treatments and remedies of Polio?

There's currently no cure for polio, only the vaccine to prevent it. Treatment of serious infection focuses on making the patient more comfortable and preventing complications. Treatment includes bed rest and analgesics to ease any pain.

This guide 

The information in this Bounty A-Z of Family Health is not a substitute for an examination, diagnosis or treatment by a doctor, midwife, health visitor or any other qualified health professional. If in doubt, always speak to a doctor.

Bounty will not be held responsible or liable for any injury, loss, damage, or illness, however this occurs or appears, after using the information given on this website and in particular the A-Z of Family Health.

Further help

For health advice and information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the NHS offers call and web services. You can also visit NHS websites for services, health information and health news at nhs.uk 

  • England – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs.uk 
  • Scotland – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs24.com 
  • Wales – call 0845 4647 , or visit nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk 
  • Northern Ireland – visit hscni.net