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What Are the Symptoms and Signs of Polio?
The vast majority of patients in the past and currently who have been infected with polio viruses show little or no symptoms and are unaware they have been infected. Patients who do show symptoms fall into two major groups, non-paralytic polio and paralytic polio. These groups are also termed minor (nonparalytic) and major (paralytic).
Non-paralytic polio, or abortive polio infections, involve the development of flu-like symptoms (fever, sore throat, headache, malaise, neck, and back and muscle stiffness or discomfort) that usually subside quickly (about 10 days with a few lasting a week or so longer) with complete resolution. Rare but potentially severe symptoms with complications can develop with paralytic polio. The initial symptoms mimic non-paralytic polio symptoms, but in about a week, paralytic symptoms of severe muscle aches and spasms, loss of reflexes, and flaccid paralysis (extremities are not controllable; they become floppy) develop. The paralysis may also occur suddenly and is sometimes worse on one side of the body. Breathing may become inhibited. Paralytic polio includes all forms of polio viruses that infect the central nervous system.
When Should I Call a Doctor about Polio?
Any person who has had any of the risk factors listed above, especially unvaccinated children or adults who may have had an exposure to a patient with polio or recently traveled in a polio endemic area, should seek medical care.
How Is Polio Diagnosed?
A doctor may make a preliminary diagnosis of polio from a patient's lack of vaccination, likely contact with the polio viruses, and symptoms of muscle aches, stiffness, and difficulty with limb movements and breathing or swallowing. Definitive diagnosis is done by obtaining samples of throat mucus, stool samples, and /or cerebrospinal fluid. Laboratory tests can detect the viruses in these samples for a definitive diagnosis, and other tests can detect if the person is making antibodies against polio viruses.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/8/2016
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