Polio (Poliomyelitis) is a potentially life-threatening acute viral infection. It is a highly contagious disease which may cause permanent nerve damage, leading to paralysis of limbs and respiratory muscles. Polio has been largely wiped out over the last century, but it still poses a threat in certain areas of the world and is particularly dangerous to children.

Countries at risk

Central Africa and is also present in certain areas of Asia. The only three countries that remain polio-endemic are Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Travel precautions

Poor sanitation is a huge factor in the spread of the disease, which is highly contagious and is spread by ingesting contaminated food and water. While you are travelling, only drink water from a sealed bottle, or from sources that have been treated by filtration, tablets or boiling. Avoid ice from unknown water sources. Avoid uncooked food and only eat fruit that you can peel. Ensure that hot food is freshly cooked and served hot. Use common sense concerning personal hygiene and hand washing.

Signs and symptoms

Polio is highly infectious, but symptoms do not typically appear for up to 20 days. Early symptoms include fever, headaches, vomiting, fatigue, chest pains, and stiffness in the neck. In rare cases (1 in 200), the sufferer can be permanently paralysed, usually in the legs. Among these rare cases, 5-10% can be killed when their breathing muscles become immobilised.


There is no cure for Polio; it can only be prevented against. In the UK, the DTP vaccination is part of the childhood immunisation schedule – this injection prevents against tetanus, diphtheria and polio. Travellers to areas at risk may be recommended a single course injection of Revaxis.

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