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    Home > Childhood Immunisation > Vaccine Preventable Diseases  > Polio

Polio (Poliomyelitis)

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This page provides a brief summary of the disease and the vaccine that is available to prevent it. Links to more detailed information are provided at the bottom of the page.


What is polio?

Polio is a virus which causes fever, vomiting and muscle stiffness. If the nerves are affected it can cause permanent paralysis - that is the loss the use of the muscles. Polio can cause also paralyse the breathing and swallowing muscles, leading to death.

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How do people get polio?

It is a highly infectious disease spread mainly through close contact with an infected person. Polio virus lives in the throat and the gut. The virus found in the gut and is spread though the faeces (bowel movements) of an infected person. The virus may be spread due to poor hand washing or water contamination.

The virus found in the throat of an infected person can also be spread through saliva.

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How serious is polio?

Polio is a serious illness. Polio infection may cause mild symptoms or very severe illness. Some people may have no symptoms or mild flu like illness, while others may have serious symptoms such as meningitis (where the lining of the brain becomes inflamed) or paralysis(where they loose the use of their muscles)

Of the people who get polio

  • 1 in 100 will become paralysed.
  • 1 in 20 patients who become paralysed will die.
  • 1 in 2 of those with paralysis who survive will be permanently paralysed.

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What are the symptoms of polio?

Symptoms include;

  • Headache
  • Feeling generally unwell, with a temperature.
  • Vomiting
  • Stiffness of the neck and back, which may lead to paralysis (loss of the use of muscles) if the infection reaches the central nervous system.
  • In the worst cases the muscles used for breathing are paralysed, which can be fatal.

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How can polio be prevented?

The most important way to prevent polio is by immunisation with Inactivated (Killed) Polio Vaccine (IPV). The polio vaccine is given to children as part of the 6 in 1 vaccine at 2, 4 and 6 months of age. The 6 in 1 vaccine protects against Diphtheria, Hepatitis B, Hib (haemophilus Influenzae B) Pertussis (Whooping Cough) Polio and Tetanus. 

Booster vaccine doses are given at 4-5 years of age () which protects against Diphtheria, Pertussis (Whooping Cough), Polio and Tetanus,

If your child requires vaccination, or you are unsure of your child’s vaccination status, contact your GP for advice.

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Is polio vaccine safe?

Yes. Inactivated (killed) polio vaccine (IPV) is a very safe vaccine.

No serious side effects have been recorded for inactivated polio vaccine which has been used for over 40 years. There may be a little redness or soreness where the injection was given .

In the past there have been scare stories regarding oral polio vaccine (OPV).  The experts have decided that the use of the Inactivated (killed) polio vaccine (IPV) is safer than oral polio vaccine (OPV).

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Where can I find out more?

You can ask for further information regarding immunisation from your G.P., Public Health Nurse or local health office.

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This section was updated on 30th January 2013
Health Protection Surveillance Centre The Department of Health and Children Irish College Of General Practitioner