Poliomyelitis Symptoms & Causes

What is poliomyelitis?

Poliomyelitis, or simply Polio, is a highly contagious infectious disease caused by three types of poliovirus. The poliovirus is a virus that destroys nervous system causing paralysis.

Types of poliomyelitis

  • Abortive poliomyelitis: The mildest form.
  • Nonparalytic poliomyelitis: Symptoms are more severe than abortive, but not as bad as paralytic.
  • Paralytic poliomyelitis:The most severe; may result in permanent paralysis of certain muscle groups, including breathing muscles and leg muscles.

What causes poliomyelitis?

The poliovirus spreads most often from fecal-oral contact. Usually, this occurs from poor hand washing or from consuming of contaminated food or water. Sneezing or coughing also spreads the virus. Your child is most contagious immediately before any symptoms show up and soon after they appear.

Is poliomyelitis common?

Since the advent of the polio vaccine during the early 1950s, infections from the poliovirus have nearly been eradicated. In fact, there have been no known infectious, or "wild," cases of polio in the United States since 1979. That said, polio is still a problem in poor, undeveloped countries. Infants and children are at the greatest risk and infections are most common during summer and fall.

What are the symptoms of poliomyelitis?

About 90 to 95 percent of people who do get infected with polio have no symptoms at all. Of those who do get the infection, 2 percent or fewer may develop paralytic disease. Symptoms may vary depending on the kind of polio and vary child-to-child.

The most common include

  • For abortive poliomyelitis
    • fever (up to 103º F)
    • decreased appetite
    • nausea and/or vomiting
    • sore throat
    • not feeling well
    • constipation
    • abdominal pain
  • For nonparalytic poliomyelitis
    • headache, nausea and vomiting may be worse
    • child may feel sick for a couple of days, then appear to improve before getting sick again
    • pain of the muscles in the neck, trunk, arms, and legs
    • stiffness in the neck and along the spine
  • For paralytic poliomyelitis
    • the symptoms of nonparalytic and abortive poliomyelitis
    • muscle weakness all over
    • severe constipation
    • muscle wasting
    • weakened breathing
    • difficulty swallowing
    • weak cough
    • flushed or blotchy skin
    • hoarse voice
    • bladder paralysis
    • muscle paralysis

Can poliomyelitis be prevented?

Yes. In addition to proper hygiene and handwashing techniques, the best way to prevent polio is by being vaccinated. The polio vaccine, or IPV (Inactivated polio vaccine), is recommended four times, when your child is:

  • 2 months old
  • 4 months old
  • between 6 and 18 months old
  • between 4 and 6 years old (children 7 to 18 years old may catch up as needed)