You've Got What?
How infectious diseases are spread and simple and practical advice for preventing the spread of infection in the home and community
Poliomyelitis or polio is an infection caused by the polio virus. It is a serious disease affecting a person’s brain and spinal cord. Infection with the poliovirus can lead to a life-threatening muscular paralysis of the body.
In the last 20 years the number of polio cases around the world has reduced. This is largely due to global vaccination programs that aim to immunise people against the poliovirus.
Countries such as North and South America, the western Pacific region (including Australia) and Europe are now all polio-free; however cases are still being reported in some parts of Asia and Africa, including cases of vaccine derived polio in Papua New Guinea in 2018.
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Poliovirus infection is a notifiable condition1
People can become infected with polio when they ingest the poliovirus though their mouth. Ingestion can occur in the following ways:
Polio can be easily transmitted when someone infected with the poliovirus has close contact with many other people, such as in day care centres and family homes.
Most people infected with the poliovirus will have no symptoms. Ten per cent of infected people may experience flu-like symptoms such as:
Less than 1% of people infected with poliovirus develop severe muscle weakness (acute flaccid paralysis) affecting the limbs, diaphragm muscle (essential for breathing), and the head and neck muscles.
The risk of permanent limb paralysis is less than 1%. Death occurs in 2 to 5% of children and 15 to 30% of adults with paralytic polio.
Cases are diagnosed on signs and symptoms; and also by a laboratory test for the poliovirus on a person’s throat secretions, faeces or CSF (cerebrospinal fluid: the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord).
(time between becoming infected and developing symptoms)
Typically 7 to 14 days with a range of 3 to 35 days.
(time during which an infected person can infect others)
Transmission is possible as long as the poliovirus is shed.
The poliovirus can stay in the throat for about 7 days and in the faeces for 3 to 6 weeks.
There is no cure for poliovirus infection.
Treatment focuses on managing the consequences of severe muscle weakness. This may include admission to intensive care to assist with breathing, and physiotherapy or medicines to reduce muscle spasm.
1 – In South Australia the law requires doctors and laboratories to report some infections or diseases to SA Health. These infections or diseases are commonly referred to as 'notifiable conditions'.