What is Poliomyelitis?

Poliomyelitis is an acute viral illness caused by poliovirus, of which there are three types, namely poliovirus type 1, 2 and 3. The incubation period can range from 5-35 days, but is commonly 7-14 days, especially for paralytic cases. Patients can present with minor symptoms such as fever, headache, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation. Some may progress to muscle pain and muscle weakness in the limbs and face. The breathing and swallowing functions may be affected and this is life-threatening.

Generally speaking, disability is more common than death. The outcome varies with the form (paralytic or non-paralytic) and the site affected. In over 90% of cases, the brain and spinal cord are not affected and complete recovery is likely.

How does it spread?

Poliomyelitis is primarily acquired by fecal-oral transmission. It may also spread through foodstuffs and milk products contaminated with feces. There is no evidence that the disease can be spread by insects.

How can you prevent it?

Travellers are advised to complete the vaccination before travel. Poliomyelitis immunisation effectively prevents poliomyelitis in most persons (immunisation is over 90% effective). There are two types of poliomyelitis vaccine, one given orally and the other by injection. Polio vaccination is one of the recommended childhood immunisations and should begin during infancy. At least 3 doses should be given, and 4 doses are preferred (more doses may be recommended in areas where polio is prevalent). Travellers are also advised to consult their family doctors if immunisation has not been completed. While travelling, foodstuffs (including milk products) suspected to be contaminated should be avoided.

How is it treated?

The goal of treatment is to control symptoms while the infection runs its course. Symptomatic treatments include analgesics, physiotherapy, braces or corrective shoes, or even surgical interventions to maximize recovery of muscle strength and function. Lifesaving measures, particularly assistance with breathing, may be necessary in severe cases.

[Poliomyelitis, 2007]



Last revision date: 10 October 2012