What is polio?

Polio (also called poliomyelitis) is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It invades the nervous system, and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours.

What are the causes of polio?

Polio is a disease caused by infection with the poliovirus. The virus spreads by:

  • Direct person-to-person contact.
  • Contact with infected mucus or phlegm from the nose or mouth.
  • Contact with infected feces.

The virus enters through the mouth and nose, multiplies in the throat and intestinal tract, and then is absorbed and spread through the blood and lymph system. The time from being infected with the virus to developing symptoms of disease (incubation) ranges from 5 to 35 days (average 7 to 14 days).

Risk factors for polio include:

  • Traveling to places where polio is endemic or widespread, especially Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  • Living with someone infected with polio.
  • Having a weak immune system.
  • Pregnant women are more susceptible to polio, but it does not appear to affect the unborn child.
  • Working in a laboratory where live poliovirus is kept.

What are the symptoms of polio?

A. Non paralytic polio
Some people who develop symptoms from the poliovirus contract non paralytic polio — a type of polio that doesn't lead to paralysis (abortive polio). This usually causes the same mild, flu-like signs and symptoms typical of other viral illnesses. Signs and symptoms, which generally last one to 10 days, include:

  • Fever.
  • Sore throat.
  • Headache.
  • Vomiting.
  • Fatigue.
  • Back pain or stiffness.
  • Neck pain or stiffness.
  • Pain or stiffness in the arms or legs.
  • Muscle weakness or tenderness.
  • Meningitis.

B. Paralytic polio
Initial signs and symptoms of paralytic polio, such as fever and headache, often mimic those of non paralytic polio. Within a week, however, signs and symptoms specific to paralytic polio appear, including:

  • Loss of reflexes.
  • Severe muscle aches or weakness.
  • Loose and floppy limbs (flaccid paralysis), often worse on one side of the body.

C. Post-polio syndrome
Post-polio syndrome is a cluster of disabling signs and symptoms that affect some people several years — an average of 35 years — after they had polio. Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Progressive muscle or joint weakness and pain.
  • General fatigue and exhaustion after minimal activity.
  • Muscle atrophy.
  • Breathing or swallowing problems.
  • Sleep-related breathing disorders, such as sleep apnea.
  • Decreased tolerance of cold temperature.
  • Cognitive problems, such as concentration and memory difficulties.
  • Depression or mood swings.

How polio is diagnosed?

A.    During a physical examination, the health care provider may find:

    • Abnormal reflexes.
    • Back stiffness.
    • Difficulty lifting the head or legs when lying flat on the back.
    • Stiff neck.
    • Trouble bending the neck.

B.    Tests that may be done include:

    • Cultures of throat washings, stools, or spinal fluid.
    • Spinal tap and examination of the spinal fluid (CSF examination) using polymerase chain reaction (PCR).
    • Test for levels of antibodies to the polio virus.

What is the treatment of polio?

Because no cure for polio exists, the focus is on increasing comfort, speeding recovery and preventing complications. Supportive treatments include:

  • Bed rest.
  • Pain relievers.
  • Portable ventilators to assist breathing.
  • Moderate exercise (physical therapy) to prevent deformity and loss of muscle function.
  • A nutritious diet.
  • Antibiotics for urinary tract infections.
  • Moist heat (heating pads, warm towels) to reduce muscle pain and spasms.

How to prevent polio?

Although improved public sanitation and careful personal hygiene may help reduce the spread of polio, the most effective way to prevent the disease is with polio vaccine.

A. Polio Vaccine.

  • Two months.
  • Four months.
  • Between 6 and 18 months.
  • Between ages 4 and 6 when children are just entering school.

It can't cause polio and is safe for people with weakened immune systems, although it's not certain just how protective the vaccine may be in cases of severe immune deficiency. Common side effects are pain and redness at the injection site.
Allergic reaction to the vaccine. IPV can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Because the vaccine contains trace amounts of the antibiotics streptomycin, polymyxin B and neomycin, it shouldn't be given to anyone who's had a reaction to these medications.

Signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction usually occur within minutes to a few hours after the shot and may include:

  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Weakness.
  • Hoarseness or wheezing.
  • Rapid heart rate.
  • Hives.
  • Dizziness.
  • Unusual paleness.
  • Swelling of the throat.

If you or your child experiences an allergic reaction after any shot, get medical help immediately.

B. Fewer shots for your child.
Polio vaccine is normally given in conjunction with vaccinations against other diseases, including diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis (DTaP), pneumococcal infections, and hepatitis B. But your child may not need to receive all these injections separately.

A combination vaccine called Pediarix is available that reduces the number of injections given during the first two years of life. Pediatrix combines DTaP, hepatitis B and polio vaccine into a single vaccine. Side effects of Pediarix are similar to those of the individual vaccines administered separately, though fever is more likely to occur in children who receive Pediarix than in children who receive vaccines separately.
C. Adult vaccination.
Certain adults at high risk of polio who have had a primary vaccination series with either IPV or the oral polio vaccine (OPV) should receive a single booster shot of IPV. A single booster dose of IPV lasts a lifetime. Adults at risk include those who are traveling to parts of the world where polio still occurs or those who care for people who may be excreting wild poliovirus.
If you're unvaccinated or your vaccination status is undocumented, get a series of primary polio vaccination shots — two doses of IPV at four– to eight–week intervals and a third dose six to 12 months after the second dose.

Does my Insurance Policy covers Polio?

Yes. According to CCHI unified Policy terms and conditions, health insurance policies in Saudi Arabia cover the treatment of polio.

Please Click Here to access the Unified CCHI Policy Wordings.
Please Click Here to access the vaccination Schedule issued by the Ministry Of Health.


"Polio." Diseases and Conditions Polio. N.p., 11 Mar. 2014. Web. 3 Oct. 2016.
"Polio." Polio. N.p., 9 Oct. 2015. Web. 3 Oct. 2016.
"Polio” Rules. N.p., n.d. Web. Aug. 2016.