Polio

3D of single poliovirus particle

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.

Quiz

Key Facts

  • Polio was eliminated in the United States in 1979. This means there is no ongoing spread of the disease for more than 12 months since then. We continue to vaccinate our nation’s children because the disease still occurs in other parts of the world and could easily be brought into the U.S.
  • 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. Fortunately, we have a good level of protection against polio in the United States. Most of us have been vaccinated, and current polio vaccination coverage among young children in the United States is 93 percent.

Media

Young girl pulling suitcase through airport
Polio and Travel

Polio still exists in a few countries in Africa and Asia. Even if you were previously vaccinated, you may need a one-time booster shot before you travel to a country where a risk of getting polio is greater. See your healthcare provider for more information.

Young girl with polio
Widespread Panic

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.

Doctor examining child
Vaccination Schedule

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 dose at ages 2 months, 4 months, 6 through 18 months, and then a booster dose at age 4 through 6 years.

Prevention Tips

  • Polio vaccine 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 do not need polio vaccine because they were already vaccinated as children. But three groups of adults are at higher risk and should consider polio vaccination in the following situations:
    • 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 treating patients who could have polio or have close contact with a person who could be infected with poliovirus.
  • Adults in these three groups who have never been vaccinated against polio should get three doses of IPV:
    • The first dose at any time,
    • The second dose 1 to 2 months later,
    • The third dose 6 to 12 months after the second.
Page last reviewed: January 3, 2022