You Are At: AllSands Home > Health > Diseases > What is polio?
Polio is a very dangerous disease caused by a virus. Some children and adults who get a serious case of polio become paralyzed. This means that they are unable to move parts of their bodies. They may even die from the disease. The serious cases of polio cause severe muscle pain and sometimes make the person unable to move one or both legs or arms and may make it difficult to breathe without the help of a machine.

Mild cases of polio may last only a few days and may cause the person to have a fever, sore throat, stomachache, and headache. There are no drugs or other special treatments that will cure people who get polio. How sick people get with the disease and how much they recover are different for each person.

Most people who are paralyzed by polio will have some weakness in an arm or leg for the rest of their lives. Many of these people will be seriously disabled. Although there area few cases of polio in the United States now, there are still many thousands of cases of polio each year in other countries. Therefore, it is important to protect our children with vaccines so that they cannot get the disease when someone brings the virus into the United States from another country.

There are two types of polio vaccines. Most experts recommend the live oral polio vaccine, which is called “OPV.” “Live” means that the polio virus used in the vaccine is still alive but has been made very weak. This type of vaccine is given as drops in the mouth. The other vaccine is called “IPV” (Inactive polio vaccine). “Inactivated” means that the polio virus used in the vaccine has been killed. This type of vaccine is given as a shot.

At least ninety out of every hundred people who get three or more doses of either OPV or IPV will be protected against polio. For healthy children and teenagers up to their eighteenth birthday, most experts recommend OPV drops rather than IPV shots. This is because OPV is easier to take and is more effective in preventing the spread of polio. The best way to be protected against polio is to get four doses of polio vaccine. Most babies should get two doses by four months of age and a third dose at fifteen to eighteen months of age. The fourth dose is given at four to six years of age.

If there is a case of polio in your neighborhood or where your child goes to school or child care, your child may need another dose of vaccine. Your doctor may also suggest that your child get another dose before taking a trip to another country where polio is common.

Are the benefits of the vaccines greater than the risk? Yes, for almost all people. Polio is a very serious disease. Almost all people who get the vaccines are protected from this disease. Only a small number of people have problems after getting the vaccines. The problems that may happen after receiving vaccine occur much less often than when the person has the disease.