Polio is a potentially crippling and deadly disease caused by a virus that spreads from person to person. It can invade the brain and spinal cord resulting in paralysis.

Before the polio vaccine was available, an average of 50,000 cases were reported in the United States each year. Polio was one of the most dreaded childhood diseases of the 20th century with annual epidemics, primarily during the summer months. This often left thousands of victims — mostly children — permanently in braces, crutches, wheelchairs or in iron lungs. Because polio can paralyze the diaphragm, in the 1940s and 1950s, entire wards of hospitals housed polio victims who were dependent on large iron lungs to breathe for them.


Polio can cause paralysis. Signs of paralytic polio may include:

  • Loss of reflexes
  • Severe muscle aches or spasms
  • Loose and floppy limbs (flaccid paralysis), often worse on one side of the body

Polio does not always cause paralysis, and people with polio don’t always show symptoms. If symptoms of nonparalytic polio appear, they may include:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Pain or stiffness in the back, neck, arms or legs
  • Muscle spasms or tenderness


Since polio has no cure, polio vaccination is the best way to protect children and the only way to stop the disease from spreading.

For the most protection against polio, your children need to receive all four recommended doses of the polio vaccine. There are two types of vaccine that can prevent polio - inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) and oral polio vaccine (OPV). Since 2000, only IPV has been used in the U.S.; however, OPV is still used throughout most of the world. Children in the U.S. are given doses of IPV at 2 months, 4 months, between 6 and 18 months, and between 4 and 6 years old. To see if your children are up-to-date on their vaccines, look at the CDC’s immunization schedule and talk to your healthcare provider.