Causes of polio

Polio is caused by the poliovirus. This virus spreads through coughing or sneezing, or through handling infected poo.
The proper name for polio is poliomyelitis.

Polio symptoms

The incubation period for polio can be 3-21 days – that is, the virus infects children 3-21 days before symptoms appear.
But in 90-95% of polio cases, infected children will have no symptoms.

If symptoms do show up, they’re similar to those of a heavy cold or flu, with fever, headache and generalised aches and pains.

In severe cases of polio (about 1-2%), the nerves are affected. This usually causes permanent paralysis in some muscles, most commonly the muscles used for breathing or the muscles in the arms and legs.

When to see your doctor about polio symptoms

You should see your doctor if your child has symptoms like those of a heavy cold or flu – fever, headache, and muscle aches and pains. If your child is having trouble with breathing or can’t move her arms or legs, contact your doctor immediately.

Let your doctor know if your child hasn’t been immunised against polio.

Polio treatment

If your doctor thinks your child might have polio because of signs of paralysis, your child will need to go to hospital.

Polio prevention

The best way to avoid polio is to have your child immunised. As part of the Australian National Immunisation Program (NIP), your child will get free immunisation against polio at:

  • 6-8 weeks
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 4 years.

These immunisations are given by injection, often in combination with immunisation against other diseases.

You need to immunise your child against polio, even though polio is now very rare because of Australia’s successful immunisation program. If your child isn’t immunised, your child could catch polio, especially if you travel overseas to areas where polio is common or where an outbreak has recently occurred.