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Detecting Polio Based on Symptoms: What to Watch Out For

Detecting Polio Based on Symptoms: What to Watch Out For

Polio is a crippling viral disease caused by the poliovirus. The common victim of this disabling condition is children ages 5 and under. Polio is a transmissible disease, can cause paralysis, and can be lethal. Although polio is a vaccine-preventable disease, it is still best if you are knowledgeable enough in detecting polio based on symptoms.

On the 19th of September 2019, the Department of Health announced the first polio outbreak in the Philippines. This news came as a surprise to many, since the country was declared polio-free in 2000.

What is polio?

Poliomyelitis or polio is a highly contagious disease caused by a viral infection brought upon by the poliovirus.

The poliovirus targets nerve cells (motor neurons) in the nervous system. It can cause degeneration and death of motor neurons in the spinal cord.

Once motor neurons in the spinal cord fail to regenerate, it can lead to polio’s most severe symptom, paralysis.

Most often, paralysis causes a lifelong disability, and about 5% to 10% of people diagnosed with paralytic polio, die from the disease.

Most patients infected by the poliovirus will not show noticeable signs and symptoms, and the rest would most likely exhibit flu-like symptoms such as a runny nose, sore throat, headache, and fever.

Detecting Polio based on Symptoms

Detecting polio based on symptoms can be quite difficult since the majority of people infected by the poliovirus are asymptomatic. On the other hand, you may determine the severity or type of polio a patient has depending on the visible symptoms they’re showing.

Detecting polio based on symptoms: Abortive polio

This is a minor or mild type of polio that is commonly diagnosed in young children. Its symptoms usually manifest 3 to 5 days after being exposed to the poliovirus, and recovery is about 24 to 72 hours.

Abortive polio symptoms include:

  • Mild fever
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Malaise
  • A decreased appetite

Detecting polio based on symptoms: Non-paralytic polio

This is more severe than abortive polio but milder than paralytic polio. A person with non-paralytic polio might show symptoms quite alike to abortive polio that will subside for some time but will eventually reoccur. Recovery from non-paralytic polio may last from 24 hours to 10 days.

Non-paralytic polio symptoms include:

  • Pain or stiffness along the spine, in the neck, arms, legs, and torso
  • Muscle spasms and tenderness
  • Meningitis

Detecting polio based on symptoms: Paralytic polio

Although rare, this is the most severe type of polio. The symptoms of paralytic polio progress after a week from mild to the most severe.

Paralytic polio symptoms include:

  • The weakening of muscles or the whole body
  • Muscle atrophy (decrease in muscle mass)
  • Severe constipation
  • Difficulty in swallowing and breathing
  • Partial or complete paralysis that may be permanent

detecting polio based on symptoms


The less severe types of polio do not cause complications as people who suffer from these conditions fully recover. On the other hand, paralytic polio can cause lifetime damage and complications to someone who has it.

Paralytic polio complications include:

  • Temporary or permanent muscle paralysis
  • Pulmonary edema (increased blood pressure in the lungs’ blood vessels)
  • Aspiration pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs)
  • Myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle)
  • Depression
  • In some cases, death

Post-polio syndrome (PPS)

This is a condition that attacks a polio survivor’s muscles and nerves. The symptoms of PPS manifest after 10 to 40-year recovery of someone who is severely affected by the initial poliovirus infection.

Post-polio syndrome symptoms include:

  • Progressive pain and weakness of muscles and joints
  • Tiredness or exhaustion even when doing light physical activities
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Swallowing and breathing problems
  • Intolerance to cold
  • Sleeping disorders like sleep apnea and periodic limb movements (PLM)


The best way to prevent poliovirus infection is by getting the poliovirus vaccine. In the Philippines, the polio immunization vaccine is given free to children under the age of 5, during the mass immunization campaign in the country.

The oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV) in the Philippines, must be administered to children at ages 1 ½, 2 ½, 3 ½ months, and inactive polio vaccine (IPV) are given at 3 ½ months.

Aside from the vaccine, there are other prevention tips on how to limit the spread of the poliovirus, like:

  • Practicing good hygiene such as proper handwashing
  • Proper use of toilet
  • Drinking clean and potable water
  • Thoroughly cooking raw food items

Key takeaways

Polio is a debilitating disease that is common in young children. Detecting polio based on symptoms is difficult since most of the people who have the disease are asymptomatic.

To prevent polio and its complications, it is advisable that parents or adults, in general, have their children vaccinated with OPV and IPV to protect them against poliovirus.

It is also important to observe proper hygiene since the poliovirus is transmissible through feces and other bodily secretions of an infected individual.

Learn more about Brain and Nervous System Issues here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Poliomyelitis (Polio) https://www.who.int/health-topics/poliomyelitis#tab=tab_2 Accessed September 19, 2020

History of Polio (Poliomyelitis) https://www.historyofvaccines.org/content/articles/history-polio-poliomyelitis Accessed September 19, 2020

Polio https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/polio.html Accessed September 19, 2020

What is Polio? https://www.cdc.gov/polio/what-is-polio/index.htm Accessed September 19, 2020

Polio and Post Polio Syndrome https://www.hse.ie/eng/health/az/p/polio-and-post-polio-syndrome/complications-of-polio-and-post-polio-syndrome.html Accessed September 19, 2020

DOH, WHO, and UNICEF Resume Polio Campaign https://www.doh.gov.ph/press-release/DOH-WHO-and-UNICEF-Resume-Polio-Campaign Accessed September 19, 2020

Poliomyelitis Symptoms and Causes http://www.childrenshospital.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions/p/poliomyelitis/symptoms-and-causes Accessed September 19, 2020

Polio (Poliomyelitis) https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=85&ContentID=P00643 Accessed September 19, 2020

Polio https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/polio/symptoms-causes/syc-20376512 Accessed September 19, 2020

Polio and the Late Effects of Polio https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/polio-and-post-polio-syndrome Accessed September 19, 2020

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Written by Mayvilyn Cabigao Updated 3 weeks ago
Medically reviewed by Mia Dacumos, M.D.