Symptoms and Signs of Polio

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 7/27/2021

Doctor's Notes on Polio

Polio is an infectious disease caused by polioviruses that can result in symptoms ranging from none to lifelong disability or death. The virus spreads from person-to-person contact. The biggest risk factor for getting polio is not getting vaccinated against the disease. Others who are at higher risk for developing the illness include young children, immunosuppressed people, pregnant women, people living or traveling in areas where polio is endemic, and polio patient caregivers. 

Polio may cause little or no symptoms and many people may be unaware they are infected. Patients who do show symptoms fall into two major groups, 

  • non-paralytic polio and 
  • paralytic polio. 

Symptoms of non-paralytic polio include flu-like symptoms (feversore throatheadache, malaise, neck, and back and muscle stiffness or discomfort) that usually subside quickly. 

Symptoms of paralytic polio involve rare and severe complications. Early symptoms of paralytic polio are the same as 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. Breathing may become difficult.

What is the treatment for polio?

While there is a vaccine available to prevent polio infections, there is no known treatment that can cure polio once a person has been infected.

Treatments consist of supportive measures such as:

  • Bed rest
  • Medications to control pain
  • Good nutrition
  • Physical therapy that can reduce the incidence of deformities over time

Some people with polio may require special diets if they have problems swallowing; leg braces or splints to control pain, muscle spasms, or to help correct deformities; or breathing assistance.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.