What is polio?

Polio is caused by the poliovirus. It is a serious disease that can lead to long-term disability, paralysis and death. Most people recover completely, but a small number experience muscle and nerve damage that result in lifelong disability.

Australia has been officially polio-free since 2000. Polio is present in only a few countries in the world.

Symptoms

Polio symptoms include:

  • headache
  • nausea and vomiting
  • fatigue
  • stiffness in the back and neck
  • muscle pain, often severe
  • paralysis.

Symptoms usually start about 3 to 35 days after catching polio.

Who is at risk

Polio can affect people at any age though the following people have higher risk of infection:

  • children under 5
  • young adults
  • anyone not immunised who is travelling to a country where people still have polio.

How it spreads

Polio spreads when you:

  • come into contact with infected faeces, usually in areas with poor cleanliness
  • come into contact with infected saliva.

Prevention

Polio can be prevented with vaccination.

Find out more about getting vaccinated against polio.

Diagnosis

Your doctor can diagnose polio by:

  • checking your symptoms
  • asking if you’ve travelled to an area where polio still exists
  • doing a blood test.

If you have polio your doctor may be required to notify your state or territory health department.

Treatment

Polio has no treatment, but good physiotherapy may help with recovery. The small number of people who get paralysis need to go to hospital and may need intensive care. Some people will need long-term treatment for limb paralysis.

Contacts

National Immunisation Hotline

Resources

Poliomyelitis vaccines for Australians

What we are doing

Global Polio Eradication Initiative

Last updated: 
6 November 2018