Polio Overview

What is Polio?

Polio is a potentially fatal disease which affects the nervous system. While there is no cure, there is a vaccine, so it is vitally important to get vaccinated against this disease before you travel. Fortunately, Polio has been largely eradicated in most of the world, and Polio vaccination is part of the routine vaccination schedule in Canada.

How do you get Polio?

Polio is mainly caused by the accidental ingestion of feces of another person already infected with virus. Typically this occurs through eating contaminated food or drinking untreated water. Polio can also be caused by contact with fluids expelled when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

What are the symptoms of Polio?

Most people have no symptoms when they are infected. Some people show symptoms 1 to 4 weeks after infection.
Mild symptoms are flu-like, while more severe symptoms include spinal cord or brain damage, causing paralysis.
In extreme cases, Polio can be fatal.

What are the treatments for Polio?

There is no known cure for Polio. Therefore, efforts have focused on vaccination to prevent Polio infection.

How can you prevent getting infected with Polio?

There is a vaccine available for Polio, which is part of the regular immunization schedule in Canada, and is covered by Ontario Health Insurance (OHIP) for example.
Since there is no cure for Polio, it is important that your Polio vaccination status is current. You may require a booster shot, for instance.
Other preventative measures involve taking precautions with food and drink, to avoid the risk of ingesting contaminated food or water.

Polio Symptoms

Most people have no symptoms when infected, although some people may develop mild flu-like symptoms 1 to 4 weeks after infection.
Mild symptoms include fever, headache, loss of appetite, muscle aches, nausea and vomiting, sore throat, abdominal pain or constipation.
In about 1% of cases, more severe symptoms may develop, including various nervous system problems, including paralysis, and in extreme cases, death.
There is no cure for Polio once contracted, so being vaccinated prior to becoming infected is of vital importance for your health and safety.

Polio Prevention

Fortunately, Polio vaccine is available and has been very successful at protecting people from contracting this disease. It has been so successful that Polio has been largely eradicated, except for a few areas of concern. Polio vaccination is a routine part of the childhood immunization schedule in Canada, and is covered by Ontario Health Insurance (OHIP) for example, but if for some reason a full course of vaccination for Polio has not been completed, please complete the vaccination schedule prior to your trip by contacting your nearest travel health clinic, especially if traveling to areas of concern.

Secondary preventative measures involve food and water safety and sanitation measures:

  • Staying in urban areas in resorts or business-class hotels
  • Staying in areas with good sewage sanitation and water filtration
  • Wash your hands before eating and drinking
  • Avoid swimming in polluted or contaminated water
  • Brush your teeth with pruified or bottled water
  • Take care in sourcing food and drink:
    • Buy bottled water or bring water to a 1 minute rolling boil before drinking
    • Avoid ice or popsicles
    • Eat foods which have been thoroughly cooked and still hot
    • Avoid raw vegetables that cannot be peeled
    • Peel vegetables and fruits yourself and discard the peelings
    • Avoid food and beverages from street vendors or market stalls
    • Avoid shellfish if taken from sewage-polluted areas
    • Avoid unpasteurized dairy products