Poliomyelitis (Polio) is a highly contagious viral infection that can cause lifelong paralysis, and was once widely fatal. Although there has been no known local transmission of the poliovirus in Australia for the past 30 years, there remains a risk of the importation of polio from overseas – and vaccination of children remains critical.
Polio is spread mainly through contact with infected faeces, leading to gastrointestinal (stomach and gut) infection by one of the three types of polioviruses. Poliovirus infection may progress to paralysis or meningitis (inflammation of the membranes enclosing the brain). About one in 20 people hospitalised with polio die from it, and half of those who survive suffer permanent paralysis.
The virus spreads between people through contact with infected faeces and, less commonly, with infected saliva.
In 90% of cases, polio has no symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they can take between three and 21 days after infection to show. These symptoms can include: headache, nausea and vomiting, tiredness, neck and back stiffness, severe muscle pain, and paralysis.
Vaccination has been highly effective in reducing the incidence of polio worldwide, and the World Health Organization-led Global Polio Eradication Initiative is currently targeting a polio-free world by 2018.
Polio vaccination is recommended as part of routine immunisation for Australian children. The polio vaccine is free under the National Immunisation Program Schedule. To receive polio immunisation, visit your local doctor or immunisation provider. It is important to note that although the vaccine is provided at no cost, a consultation fee may apply.
Doses of vaccine are given at two, four and six months of age, with a booster dose at 4 years. Immunisation against polio is achieved using single-disease or combination vaccines.