• Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP
    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.

Bacterial Infections 101 Pictures Slideshow

What causes polio?

Polio is caused by small RNA viruses. They are members of the enterovirus group of the Picornavirus family. There are three types (types 1, 2, and 3) of polio viruses; type I is responsible for about 85% of all paralytic infections. These types are antigenically distinct strains of viruses and infection or immunity to one type does not protect against the other two types, however, if immunity is established to one or all of the three strains, immunity is lifelong. The problem that these viruses cause is the destruction of spinal cord cells (specifically, the anterior horn cells).

What are risk factors for polio? How does polio spread?

Currently, the World Health Organization (WHO) have certified that the Americas, Western Pacific, and Europe are polio free. Other areas have a low incidence of polio, but people in war zones where vaccinations have been interrupted are at a risk getting polio (for example, Afghanistan and Syria). The greatest risk factor for polio is not being vaccinated. People with immunodeficiency (HIV, cancer patients, chemotherapy patients, for example), very young individuals, pregnant females, caregivers for polio patients, travelers to areas were polio is endemic, and lab personnel who work with live polioviruses are at increased risk for polio.

Polio, like smallpox, only infects humans. Polio spreads by person-to-person contact; the virus lives in the throat and in the intestines and is spread through contact with the feces or by droplet spread in a sneeze or cough. It can also be spread by an infected person who has contaminated food or fluids by touching or tasting them. Unfortunately, a person can be infectious and transmit the virus even before they develop any symptoms.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/17/2016

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  • Polio -- Patient Experience

    Did you receive the polio vaccine as a child? Did you make sure your children received the polio vaccine? Please describe your experience.


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