Polio - Symptoms Vaccination And History Of Polio Programs In India

Polio - Symptoms Vaccination And History Of Polio Programs In India

One disease which has been invading the human population since thousands of years is Polio. By the time effective vaccine developed for polio, it was perhaps the most dreaded disease. Today, the world knows it, and majority of the countries have totally eradicated the disease including India.


Polio also known as poliomyelitis is a contagious disease that is caused by a virus. It’s more severe form can cause difficulty in breathing, paralysis, and even death. Children under the age of 5 years old are most likely to catch the virus as compared to any other group.

How poliovirus spreads?

The most negative aspect of poliovirus is that it is highly contagious in nature. The virus lives in the throat and intestines of infected human beings. Even without any symptoms, a person can infect another person. The virus spread through infected feces, especially in places of improper sanitation.

While the primary transmission route of the virus is contaminated water and food, it can also spread through sneezing and coughing.

Are there any risk factors?

Yes, if you are not vaccinated. In that case your chances of getting polio increases when you:

  • Are pregnant
  • Have weak immune system
  • Traveling to an area of polio outbreak
  • Living with or caring an infected person
  • Have your tonsils removed (tonsillectomy)
  • Working in a lab handling sample of the virus
  • Taking extreme stress after catching the virus

Signs and Symptoms of Polio

The good thing is that according to an estimate, 95 to 99 percent of individuals who contract the virus are asymptotic, means they show no signs or symptoms. They don’t become sick and unaware that they have contracted the virus. But still they can spread the disease to other people (if not vaccinated).

The symptoms can be divided into two categories non-paralytic and paralytic with latter the most serious form of the disease.

Non-paralytic symptoms 

These signs and symptoms are mostly flu-like lasting for 1-10 days.

  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Neck pain or back pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Meningitis

Paralytic Symptoms

About 1 percent of the cases can lead to paralytic polio. Paralytic polio can result in paralysis of the brainstem (bulbar polio), spinal cord (spinal polio) or both known as (bulbospinal polio). The initial symptoms will appear like non-paralytic but after a week, paralytic symptoms appear:

  • Severe muscle pain
  • Loss of reflexes
  • Sudden paralysis, temporary or may be permanent
  • Loss of floppy limbs (flaccid paralysis)
  • Deformed limbs such as ankles, hips and feet

Post-Polio Syndrome

Even if a person recovers from the disease, polio can reoccur later in life. It happens after 15-40 years. Some of the common symptoms are mentioned below:

  • Progressive muscle or joint pain
  • Exhaustion after a small activity
  • Decrease or wastage of muscles (Muscle atrophy)
  • Trouble breathing and swallowing
  • Sleep apnea or other sleep-related disorders
  • Memory and concentration problems
  • Reduced tolerance to cold temperatures
  • Mood swings

Diagnosis of Polio

The doctor will conduct a physical examination of the affected person and examine the visible symptoms. Lab tests of stool, throat secretions and colorless fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord (cerebrospinal fluid) can further confirm the presence of the disease.

Is there any treatment for polio?

There is no cure for polio, but symptoms can be reduced. The focus lies in increasing the comfort and preventing complications. The doctor would advise:

  • Pain relievers
  • Bed rest
  • Anti-biotics to treat urinary tract infections
  • Antispasmodic medication to relax muscles
  • Portable ventilators to help in breathing problems
  • Physical therapy for relief in pain of the muscles
  • Physical therapy for relief in breathing problems

People with severe symptoms would also need a wheelchair or other mobility device for their day to day operations.

How can we prevent polio?

The most widely accepted and the best way to prevent polio is to get immunization against the disease. Secondly, improved public sanitation can further eradicate the remaining instances of polio.

In India, vaccination is given in two forms, orally or via injection. Both methods are completely different with different schedule and quantity of dosage.

Oral Polio Vaccine 

At birth, 6, 10, 14 weeks, 18 months and 5 years. In short, two drops of dosage is given 5 times before the age of 5.

Inactivated Polio Vaccine 

This injectable vaccine is given either in two doses, at 6 weeks and 14 weeks after birth (0.1 ml each) or a single dose at 14 weeks (0.5 ml)

Polio Immunization Programs in India

In order to eradicate the disease from the country, the government of India first started a program in 1978 by vaccinating all the children under the age of 5. By the year 1984, India successfully covered 40 percent of all the infants under the vaccination program.

The following year, ‘Universal Immunization Program’ was launched to cover all the district of the country which showed a significant increase from 40 percent to 95 percent of vaccination.  

The cases of polio were also significantly reduced from 28,757 to 3,265 in the year 1995. ‘Pulse Polio’ launched in 1995 gave the government immense success. The motto was to reach 100 percent eradication of the disease amongst the children.

The success was so much so that last case of polio was reported in Gujarat and West Bengal on 13th January 2011. At last, on 27th March 2014, India was declared a polio-free country by World Health Organization.

But the risk of importing virus from Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan still persist. These countries are still grappling with the disease.

Since the vaccine was made available in the year 1957, America, Europe, Western Pacific and countries of South East Asia have been declared as polio-free.


1. Mehndiratta M.M., et al.(2014, October).Poliomyelitis: Historical Facts, Epidemiology, and Current Challenges in Eradication. read more
2. Polio(2015,September 10). read more
3. Polio Vaccination: Information for Healthcare (2017, May 22) 
read more