What are Common Symptoms of Polio?

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  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 June 2019
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There are both minor and serious symptoms of polio which can include fever, abdominal pain, constipation, muscle aches, sore throat, nausea, flu-like symptoms, paralysis, and meningitis. Very rarely polio may lead to full paralysis and sometimes even death. Up to 95% of all individuals who become infected with polio will never exhibit symptoms, but these people can still spread the virus.

Polio is a virus which infects the back of the throat, nasal passages, and intestines. When one becomes infected there is generally an incubation period during which symptoms are not shown and the virus continues to grow and colonize. This generally lasts anywhere from four to 35 days, with the average incubation period being about a week. If symptoms of polio do arise, most patients exhibit only mild ones and recover fully.

Occasionally, severe symptoms of polio like meningitis and paralysis can lead to death or permanent disability. These are now rare but they once occurred more frequently due to epidemic polio outbreaks in the United States and Europe. Thousands of people suffered from severe and long-term paralysis and many others died before the widespread of the polio vaccine in 1957. Although they are not very common, they are the most well known symptoms of polio because of their debilitating effects.


There are many adults living who still suffer from decreased mobility due to polio. In most industrialized nations polio symptoms are no longer a threat to human society, although outbreaks still occur in countries where vaccines are not widely used. In some rare occasions, polio symptoms are seen in children who have recently be given the live virus version of the vaccine. Even more rarely, children may contract a full-blown polio infection from the vaccine.

These instances are very rare, but as a precaution, caregivers are advised to keep recently vaccinated children away from vulnerable individuals. This can include those who are not vaccinated, such as young infants. Anyone who begins exhibiting symptoms of polio shortly after being vaccinated should be seen by a health care professional as a precaution. Symptoms generally subside within a few days.

There is no cure for polio. A series of vaccines is given in early childhood in most nations to prevent the disease, and this has led to a 99% drop in polio infections. There are still a few nations in which polio is still endemic, so parents and children should be aware of polio symptoms, although contracting the disease is highly unlikely in fully vaccinated individuals.



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