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Polio is an infection caused by the poliovirus that initially involves the gastrointestinal system, spreads to the lymph nodes and in less than 1% of individuals affects the central nervous system; resulting in the feared paralysis.

Where does it occur?

Polio is endemic in Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Niger, Pakistan and Somalia.

How is it transmitted?

The virus is transmitted primarily from person to person by ingesting fecal material of an infected individual through soiled hands. One can also transmit it by oral secretions and rarely by contaminated food and milk.

Is it contagious from person to person?

It is contagious from person to person through soiled hands and the infected person maybe contagious for up to 6 weeks.

What is the risk for travelers?

Polio is a definite risk for those traveling to endemic countries; primarily the Indian subcontinent and Western Africa.

How soon after exposure will one develop symptoms?

Symptoms are usually seen 1-2 weeks after exposure, but can occur up to a month after exposure.

What are the signs and symptoms?

The majority of those infected will have no symptoms. Approximately 10% of individuals develop symptoms of fever, sore throat, headache, abdominal pain and vomiting.

In about 1% of people one can see meningitis with headache, nausea, vomiting, and stiff neck.

In less than 1% of people one sees paralysis; commonly localized to just one side of the body. The paralysis reaches its maximal effect quickly, usually within 3-4 days and fever is present at the onset. The legs are more commonly affected than the arms. Paralysis of the respiratory muscles can result in difficulty breathing, shortness of breath and may lead to death. If there is no recovery of neurologic symptoms in 2 months – they are likely permanent.

Are there any lab tests to diagnose the illness?

Polio virus can be isolated from stool, spinal fluid or throat.

Is there any treatment?

No specific treatment is available once the person is infected. Care is entirely supportive with fluids, rest etc.

What preventive measures can be taken?

Polio vaccine is effective in preventing the illness and should be obtained prior to travel to countries at risk.

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