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Polio: What Is It And How Does It Spread?

Polio: What Is It And How Does It Spread?

By Smitha Mundasad and Philippa Roxby
Health reporters

Image source, Getty Images

UK health officials say they have detected the virus that causes polio in a concerning number of sewage samples in London.

There have been no recorded cases of people ill with the disease in the UK but doctors are on alert.

What is polio and how does it spread?

It can be a serious infection, caused by a virus which spreads easily through contact with the faeces (poo) of an infected person or less commonly through droplets when they cough or sneeze.

It mostly affects children under five years old.

The majority of people with the infection have no symptoms but some feel like they have the flu with:

  • a high temperature
  • sore throat
  • headache
  • stomach pain
  • aching muscles
  • feeling sick

A small number of infected people – between one in a thousand and one in a hundred – develop more serious problems where polio invades the nervous system. This causes paralysis – usually of the legs.

This is not normally permanent and movement often comes back gradually.

But it can be life-threatening – particularly if paralysis affects muscles used for breathing.

What age do you get the polio vaccine?

The UK used to use a highly effective oral polio vaccine that came as drops. It has switched to the newer, injectable form.

The NHS offers five doses from the ages of 8 weeks to 14 years as part of routine childhood jabs.

picture showing when people should get a vaccineImage source, BBC News

People need to have all of these vaccinations to be fully immunized against the disease.

You can have a vaccination at any point if you’ve never had one before.

How can you protect children?

In the UK you can check your children’s red books to make sure they are up-to-date with…

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