What is polio?
Polio is an infectious disease, caused by the poliovirus virus, which affects the brain and spinal cord. It can lead to paralysis and in some cases death.
How is polio transmitted?
The polio virus is transmitted from person to person by mouth or fecal-oral route. The infection commonly occurs when objects that may have come into contact with fecal matter are introduced into the mouth, although it can also spread via particles released into the air during sneezing. Infected people can infect others up to two weeks after they experience symptoms.
What are the symptoms of polio?
In most cases, poliovirus infections are asymptomatic. However, some people have the following symptoms, which usually pass within a week:
- Sore throat
- Stomach pain
In serious cases, patients may also experience tingling or numbness in the legs, meningitis (an infection of the layers surrounding the brain, called meninges), and paralysis. Paralysis can be permanent and affect the muscles of the respiratory system, causing death.
Is polio curable?
There is no cure for polio, but vaccines are effective in stopping transmission. In 2013 a global health initiative was launched to eradicate the world of the disease.
How can you prevent polio?
The best way to protect against polio is by vaccination. The NHS routinely vaccinates children in the UK with up to 5 doses of the vaccine, given throughout childhood.
What are the infected areas in the world?
Routine immunisation against polio has eradicated the disease in many parts of the world. However is it still a problem in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, and there is a risk of infection in some parts of Africa and the Middle East.
What is a polio certificate?
A polio vaccine certificate proves you have been vaccinated against poliovirus. Some high risk countries require travellers to provide proof of polio vaccination before they can leave the country. Travellers without proof may be required to have a polio booster jab before departure.
Who should get the polio vaccine?
Most people have been vaccinated against polio as part of the childhood immunisation programme.
You advised to get vaccinated or an additional booster jab if you:
- did not complete the full schedule of jabs as child
- are planning a trip to one of the countries where poliovirus remains active, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria
- care for patients who may be infected with the virus.
Who should not get the polio vaccine?
The vaccine is safe for almost everyone. However it is not recommended if:
- you have had an allergic reaction to previous doses of the vaccine, or any of its components
- you are feeling ill with a fever, in which case you need to postpone vaccination until you have recovered.
How long before travelling should I get the polio vaccine?
You should ideally begin immunisation two months before your trip to ensure you complete the full schedule.
Beginning at least 8 weeks before you travel, you should get 3 doses, each separated by 4 weeks.
If you begin immunisation 4 weeks before travel, you should get 2 doses, separated by 4 weeks.
If you plan to travel in less than 4 weeks, you can get a single dose of the vaccine.
You should complete the full schedule of doses as soon as you can.
What is the effectiveness of the polio vaccine?
The polio vaccine has proven very effective. Since the Global Eradication Program began in 1988, cases of polio have reduced by 99% worldwide.
What are the side effects of the polio vaccine?
There are no known major side effects of the polio vaccine. Some people may experience redness or soreness at the site of the injection, or develop a small, painless lump which usually disappears.
How long does it last for?
The exact duration of protection is unknown, but the vaccine offers protection against polio for many years.
When and where was the last outbreak of polio?
Polio outbreaks have decreased since international efforts to eradicate the disease began in 1988. However, the disease is still endemic in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.