Polio

Polio

A 3D representation of a poliovirus particle.

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What is polio and how does it spread? 
What are the symptoms of polio?   

How is polio treated? 
Information for health care providers 
Resources for health care providers

No recent poliovirus infections have been reported among Vermont residents. Poliovirus infections are immediately reportable to the Health Department. 

Vaccination is our most effective tool against poliovirus infections. Vaccinated people are at very low risk of serious poliovirus infection outcomes. Most U.S. adults are protected because of the vaccination program, and it is important for children to be vaccinated when recommended.

In July 2022, an unvaccinated young adult in New York state was diagnosed with paralytic polio. Paralytic polio is when the poliovirus infection reaches a person’s spinal cord and affects the movement of parts of the body. Public health experts are working to understand how and where the infection happened. Learn more from the Rockland County Department of Health 

The risk of paralytic polio remains very low in the United States due to a high vaccination rate against poliovirus and the country's quality of sanitation and hygiene. Most people who grew up in the United States and attended public schools have been vaccinated against poliovirus, as have many people from other parts of the world.

Some countries have ongoing poliovirus transmission, which is why being fully vaccinated on schedule for polio is important for protecting children in the United States. 

Learn more about polio vaccinations (CDC) 
Polio vaccine facts for parents (CDC) 

Not sure about your vaccine history? Speak to your health care provider.

If you do not have a provider, Vermont 2-1-1 might be able to connect you to one.

What is polio and how does it spread?

Polio is a disease caused by the poliovirus that only infects people. The disease can be disabling and life-threatening. A person becomes infected when the virus enters through the mouth and lives in the throat and intestines.

The virus can survive for a long time. It can live in an infected person’s body for many weeks. It can be spread by an infected person right before they have symptoms through two weeks after the symptoms started. An infected person who never had symptoms can still spread the virus to others. Contact with the stool (poop) or respiratory droplets from a sneeze or cough of an infected person can spread poliovirus. Poliovirus can also be spread through the stool (poop) of an infected person to food and water in unsanitary conditions. People who then eat or drink the contaminated food or water can become infected.

People at the highest risk for polio infection are:

  • Newborn babies
  • Children under two years old who have not yet received all four doses of the polio vaccine
  • Anyone who has not had a full series of vaccine (four doses)
  • People who are immunocompromised

While polio is very easy to spread, the polio vaccine is highly effective at preventing infection, illness and severe outcomes of the disease. Learn more about polio vaccinations (CDC) 

What are the symptoms of polio?   

Most people infected with poliovirus do not have any symptoms but can still spread the virus to others.

About 1 in 4 people will experience “flu-like” symptoms that usually last two to five days. Symptoms can take up to 30 days to appear after infection and might include:

  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • Stomach pain

A very small number of those with polio have severe symptoms and outcomes, including:

  • Meningitis (swelling of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord)
  • Severe muscle pains
  • Stiffness in the neck and back
  • Paralysis (loss of movement when something goes wrong with the way messages pass between your brain and muscles)
  • Death

Learn more at CDC

How is polio treated? 

There is no cure for paralytic polio and no specific treatment. 

If you are concerned that you or someone in your household has symptoms of polio, do not wait to call your health care provider. If you do not have a health care provider, call 2-1-1 to be connected to care or contact the nearest federally qualified health center or one of Vermont's free & referral clinics.

Information for health care providers 

Polio diagnosis is informed by a physical exam, medical history, MRI, and samples including stool, throat swab, blood, urine and spinal fluid. Patients who are suspected of having polio should be hospitalized right away. 

Report suspect poliovirus infection (including poliomyelitis) immediately by phone: 802-863-7240, option 2. 

infectious disease reporting

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that most adults (ages 18 and older) who live in the United States were vaccinated as children, and therefore are likely to be protected from getting paralytic polio.  

  • Polio vaccination has been part of the routine childhood immunization schedule for decades, and it is still included as part of routine childhood immunizations. The Salk vaccine was licensed in 1955, and childhood immunization campaigns started shortly after. 
  • People who received any childhood immunizations, especially those who attended public school (or many private schools) where there are generally vaccination requirements for school entry, almost certainly received polio vaccination. 

Adults who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated are at higher risk for disease if exposed to poliovirus. These adults should complete the polio vaccination series as soon as possible. Adults who do not know if they have been vaccinated and can’t access their vaccination records should talk with their physician about their risk of exposure to poliovirus, the likelihood they were vaccinated in the past, and whether they should receive polio vaccination now.

Resources for Health Care Providers