Polio, also known as poliomyelitis, is a potentially deadly disease caused by the poliovirus. It can invade an infected person’s spinal cord and brain and can lead to permanent paralysis in a matter of hours. It can also cause difficulty breathing and sometimes death.
Polio is transmitted between people through the oral and fecal-oral routes. In other words, when someone is infected, their stool and mouth/nasal secretions can transmit the virus. Therefore, contact with food and water contaminated with the virus, or direct contact with an infected patient, may result in illness.
Dr. Julian Klapowitz of Travel Medicine Consultations specializes in travel disease prevention, and he can provide the polio vaccine NYC residents need before visiting a country where the poliovirus is known to exist.
What are the symptoms of polio?
Most people infected by poliovirus do not show any immediate symptoms. The virus can cause paralytic or non-paralytic polio.
Some people infected by poliovirus contract a type of polio which does not lead to paralysis. The infected person develops symptoms that include the following:
- Sore throat
- Pain or stiffness in the back, neck, arms or legs
- Tenderness or weakness of the muscles
Only a small portion of those affected by poliovirus develops more serious symptoms. The symptoms of paralytic polio may initially seem like the symptoms of nonparalytic polio, such as fever and headache. Other signs and symptoms, then appear, usually within weeks:
- Severe weakness or muscle aches
- Loss of reflexes
- Flaccid paralysis (loose or floppy limbs)
Poliovirus that infects the brain and spinal cord can lead to:
- Paresthesias (feeling of pins and needles in the legs)
- Meningitis (inflammation of the tissue covering the brain)
Places where polio is common:
The polio vaccine was developed and made available in 1957. The vaccine has drastically reduced the infection and helped several areas such as the Americas, Europe, Southeast Asia and Western Pacific to be certified as polio-free. Although cases have decreased by 99% since 1988, the virus is still persistent in a few countries, including Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Outbreaks occur in other countries as well. Some countries still vaccinate with live polio vaccine. This vaccine contains a weakened form of the virus that can, on a very rare occasion, mutate and cause disease. This usually occurs when a region’s population has not been adequately vaccinated. Unvaccinated individuals can then fall victim to the mutant vaccine version of the polio virus, referred to as vaccine-derived polio virus (VDPV). Generally, a country is considered a polio risk to travelers if either “wild-type” (naturally occurring) polio or VDPV are present.
Polio vaccine and prevention:
Prevention involves proper food and water precautions, good hygiene (particularly hand washing), and avoiding contact with anyone suspected of having polio. In the United States, the polio vaccine is a “dead” vaccine. It is given as a series to children and as a one-time adult booster to people traveling to at-risk countries. An adult polio booster may be required (along with written proof of immunization), even if you have already had an adult booster, if you plain to visit a polio risk country for more than four weeks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the shot 4 weeks to 12 months before you leave the at-risk country, in this circumstance.
To learn more about the polio vaccine in New York City, call and make an appointment for a consultation at Travel Medicine Consultations