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What is polio?

Page last updated 09 April 2020

Polio is a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves an infected person partially or fully paralysed. Between 2–5% of children and 15–30% of adults can die as a result of paralytic polio disease, depending on the severity of the case. Polio is a disease caused by one of three types of viruses called the polioviruses.

Polio is very contagious and is spread through person-to-person contact. The virus lives in an infected person’s throat (saliva) and intestines (faeces/poo).

Around three quarters of people who get infected with the virus will not have any visible symptoms (but can still be contagious). Around a quarter of people infected may experience flu-like symptoms, which may last 2–5 days and could include:
•    Fever
•    Tiredness 
•    Headache 
•    Nausea
•    Gastro/stomach upset
•    Stiffness of the neck and back (with or without paralysis).

However, some people who get infected may develop more serious symptoms that affect the brain and spinal cord. These might include:
•    Paraesthesia (feeling of pins & needles in the legs)
•    Meningitis (inflammation of the protective layers of membrane which cover the brain and spinal cord)
•    Paralysis (inability to move parts of the body) or weakness in the arms, legs or both.

Paralysis is the most severe symptom associated with polio as it can lead to permanent disability or even death.

Sources & Citations

1.    Australian Government. Department of Health. The Australian Immunisation Handbook – Poliomyelitis. Available at: (accessed 18 March 2020).
2.    World Health Organization. Poliomyelitis factsheet. Available at: (accessed 18 March 2020).
4.    Victoria State Government. Better Health Channel. Polio and post-polio syndrome. Available at: (accessed 18 March 2020).
5.    Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Global Health. What Is Polio? Available at: (accessed 18 March 2020).

SPANZ.IPV.18.04.0155(1)a - Date of preparation March 2020