What Causes Polio? Does The Polio Vaccine Prevent Polio?

Polio (poliomyelitis) is a deadly disease caused by a virus known as poliovirus. Formally, as one of the most dreaded diseases in the United States, it was eradicated due to the advent of a vaccine in the 1950s.

In the 1970s, the vaccine was available to many people, leading to fewer than 10 cases of polio in the U.S. It’s a contagious virus that can easily affect people who aren’t vaccinated. Worse still, it can attack your spinal cord and brain and lead to paralysis. It can affect anyone, but kids under five can quickly get it.

The three variations of poliovirus are known as wild poliovirus types 1, 2, and 3 (WPV1, WPV2, and WPV3). Wild polio types 2 and 3 are now a thing of the past, and wild polio type 1, which can lead to paralysis, only occurs in a few parts of the world, such as Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan.

Types Of Polio

Causes Of Polio

The impact of polio on your body varies based on where the virus multiplies and attacks, and its types include:

? Abortive Poliomyelitis

Abortive poliomyelitis causes flu-like and intestinal symptoms, which resolve in a few days without resulting in long-lasting issues.

? Non-paralytic poliomyelitis

Non-paralytic poliomyelitis may lead to aseptic meningitis, a swelling area around your brain. Its symptoms exceed those of abortive poliomyelitis, and it’s recommended to stay in the hospital. Approximately 1 in 4 people will have flu-like symptoms like a sore throat, fatigue, upset stomach, fever, headache, back or neck pain or stiffness, muscle weakness, stomach pain, and vomiting. However, you don’t get paralyzed with these symptoms, which can be independently resolved within ten days.

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? Paralytic Poliomyelitis

Paralytic poliomyelitis occurs when poliovirus invades your brain and spinal cord. It often paralyzes the muscles responsible for breathing, speaking, swallowing, and moving your limbs. Based on the affected body parts, it’s known as spinal polio or bulbar polio. Spinal and bulbar polio co-occur (bulbospinal polio). Less than 1% of people with polio suffer from paralytic poliomyelitis.

? Polioencephalitis

Polioencephalitis is a rare kind of polio that often affects infants and swells the brain.

? Post-Polio Syndrome

Post-polio syndrome occurs when symptoms of polio return years after a polio infection. Symptoms include problems with breathing and swallowing, muscle loss, sleep disorders like sleep apnea, and trouble handling low temperatures.

What Causes Polio?

When you consume contaminated food or water, there will be polio or poliomyelitis, one of the three poliovirus strains in the same family of enteroviruses that result in hand, foot, and mouth disease and meningitis.

Once inside the body, the virus goes to the tonsils, multiplies in the throat, moves to the stomach and the colon, becomes the disease’s reservoir, and multiplies in the lymph nodes, liver, and spleen. Only 1-2% of the virus enters the bloodstream, spinal cord neurons, and brainstem, destroying the central nervous system (CNS) and motor neurons that manage muscle function, leading to muscular atrophy, muscle weakness, and paralysis.

Treatment Options For Polio

If you have polio, your healthcare provider will prioritize your comfort to avoid any additional health issues. The treatments you’ll get include pain relievers like ibuprofen, a ventilator for breathing, physical therapy to enhance your muscles, bed rest and fluids for flu-like symptoms, antispasmodic medications to ease muscles, antibiotics for urinary tract infections, a heating pad for muscle aches and spasms, corrective braces, pulmonary rehabilitation for lung complications, and a mobility aid like a cane, wheelchair, or electric scooter.


While no cure is available for polio, a vaccine enables your body to tackle the virus. The two types of polio vaccine include:

  • inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV). This will be injected into either your leg or your arm.
  • oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV). This vaccine can be taken in the mouth, and it’s still used globally.

Nowadays, children in the U.S. usually get four doses of the IPV vaccine, one dose each at ages:

  • Two months
  • Four months
  • Between 6 and 18 months
  • Between 4 and 6 years

Adults who received the polio vaccine during childhood should still be immune. However, you might need the vaccine if you’re traveling to a country where polio is still prevalent or if you spend time with a polio patient.

Your doctor can administer two shots four to eight weeks apart, then a third shot six months to a year later if you haven’t received any vaccinations or are unsure.

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Up until the introduction of vaccines in the 1950s, the United States was at risk from the deadly poliovirus-caused disease known as poliomyelitis. Polio comes in different forms, as well as the severe paralytic type, and can cause lifelong disabilities.

Dealing with polio involves prevention through vaccination, with inactivated and oral poliovirus vaccines helping to reduce its global prevalence. To treat polio, you need to consult your healthcare provider.

About the Author

Nicole Carter is a dedicated and passionate nutritionist, committed to helping individuals achieve their health and wellness goals through the power of proper nutrition. With a Bachelor's degree in Nutritional Science and years of practical experience.

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