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What is Poliomyelitis, it's symptoms and how is it transmitted

Poliomyelitis, popularly known as childhood paralysis, is an infectious disease caused by the poliovirus, which usually lives in the gut, but can reach the bloodstream and in some cases affect the nervous system, causing limb paralysis, motor changes and, in some cases, may even cause death.

The virus is transmitted from person to person through contact with secretions such as saliva, or by the consumption of water and food containing contaminated stool, affecting children more often, especially if there is poor hygiene.

Although few polio cases are currently reported, it is important to vaccinate children up to age 5 to prevent the disease from recurring and so that the virus does not spread to other children. Learn more about the polio vaccine.

What is Poliomyelitis, it's symptoms and how is it transmitted

Symptoms of Poliomyelitis

In most cases poliovirus infection causes no symptoms, but when they do appear, they include varying symptoms, allowing polio to be classified as non-paralytic and paralytic according to the symptoms presented:

1. Non-paralytic polio

Symptoms that may arise after infection by the poliovirus are usually related to the non-paralytic form of the disease, which is characterized by:

  • Low fever;
  • Headache and backache;
  • General malaise;
  • Vomiting and nausea;
  • Sore throat;
  • Muscle weakness;
  • Pain or stiffness in the arms or legs;
  • Constipation.

2. Paralytic Polio

Although it it rare, in some cases a person can develop the severe paralytic form of the disease, in which neurons of the nervous system are destroyed, causing paralysis in a limb with loss of strength and reflexes.

In even rarer situations, if a large part of the nervous system is compromised, there may be loss of motor coordination, difficulty in swallowing, respiratory paralysis, which may even lead to death.

How is the virus transmitted

The transmission of polio is made from one person to another. The virus is eliminated in the feces or in secretions such as saliva, phlegm and mucus.  The infection occurs through the consumption of food containing feces or contact with contaminated secretion droplets.

Contamination with polio is more common in environments with poor sanitation and poor hygiene, with children being the most affected. However, it is also possible for adults to be affected, especially those with compromised immune systems, such as the elderly and malnourished people.

What is Poliomyelitis, it's symptoms and how is it transmitted

How to prevent

To avoid infection with the poliovirus, it is important to invest in sanitation improvements, water decontamination, and proper washing of food.

However, the main way to prevent polio is through vaccination, where 4 or 5 doses are required, from the age of 2 months to the age of 18, depending on weather you live in the US or UK.


Like other viruses, poliomyelitis does not have a specific treatment, and it is recommended you rest, drink fluids and take medicines such as Paracetamol or Dipyrone, because they can relieve fever and pain in the body.

In more severe cases, where there is paralysis, the treatment may also include physiotherapy sessions, where techniques and equipment are used, such as orthotics, to adjust posture and help reduce the effects in a persons day-to-day.

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