Polio, or poliomyelitis, is a disabling and life-threatening disease caused by poliovirus. The virus spreads from person to person and can invade an infected person’s spinal cord, causing paralysis (can’t move parts of the body). There is no cure, but there are safe and effective vaccines to prevent polio.
- Polio vaccination has been part of the routine childhood immunization schedule in the United States for decades and is still part of the routine childhood immunization schedule. Inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) is the only polio vaccine that has been given in the United States since 2000. It is given by shot in the arm or leg, depending on the person’s age. Oral polio vaccine (OPV) is used in other countries.
- Most people infected with poliovirus have no symptoms. About 24 percent have minor flu-like symptoms that don’t last long. They may have a sore throat, fever, tiredness, nausea, headache, or stomach pain. Only a few people who get poliovirus will develop meningitis (infection of the covering of the spinal cord or brain) or paralysis in the arms or legs.
- Polio was once one of the most feared diseases in the U.S. In the early 1950s, before polio vaccines were available, polio outbreaks caused more than 15,000 cases of paralysis each year.
- While borders can’t stop diseases from spreading, vaccines can. Most adults in the United States were vaccinated as children and are therefore likely to be protected from getting polio. Unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated adults who are at increased risk of exposure to poliovirus should receive and complete their polio vaccination series with IPV.
- The best way to keep people safe from polio is to maintain high immunity (protection) against polio in the population through vaccination.
For best protection, children should get four doses of polio vaccine. This vaccine is given as a shot in the arm or leg and is extremely safe. Ideally, your child should receive a total of four doses: at ages 2 months, 4 months, 6 through 18 months, and then a booster dose at age 4 through 6 years.
Polio still exists in a few countries in Africa and Asia. Even if you were previously vaccinated, you may need a single lifetime booster dose of IPV before you travel to a country where there is an increased risk of exposure to poliovirus . See your healthcare provider for more information.
In the late 1940s to the early 1950s, polio outbreaks in the United States increased in frequency and size. Polio paralyzed more than 35,000 people in the U.S. each year. Parents were frightened to let their children go outside, especially in the summer when the virus seemed to peak.
- Polio vaccination provides the best protection against polio.
- Children should get four doses of inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) to protect against polio, with one dose at each of the following ages:
- 2 months
- 4 months
- 6 through 18 months
- 4 through 6 years
- Children who will be traveling to a country where the risk of getting polio is greater should complete the vaccination series before leaving for their trip. If a child cannot complete the routine series above before leaving, an accelerated schedule is recommended as follows:
- The first dose at age 6 weeks or older,
- A second dose 4 or more weeks after the first dose,
- A third dose 4 or more weeks after the second dose,
- A fourth dose 6 or more months after the third dose.
Most adults in the U.S. do not need polio vaccine because they were already vaccinated as children. However, unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated adults who are at increased risk of exposure to poliovirus should receive polio vaccination. Adults who completed their polio vaccination but who are at increased risk of exposure to poliovirus may receive one lifetime IPV booster.
Situations that put adults at increased risk of exposure to poliovirus include:
- You are traveling to a country where the risk of getting polio is greater. Ask your healthcare provider for up-to-date information on whether you need to be vaccinated.
- You are working in a laboratory and handling specimens that might contain polioviruses.
- You are a healthcare worker or caregiver who has close contact with a person who could be infected with poliovirus. You are an unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated adult living with children who received oral poliovirus vaccine (for example, international adoptees or refugees). You are an unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated adult living or working in a community where poliovirus is circulating.