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Polio Fact Sheet

Polio is a highly infectious diseases caused by a virus and spread through water as well as coughing and sneezing. Polio mainly affects children under five years old and babies. Polio causes muscles to shorten or stop working (paralysis). Shortened muscles and paralysis causes disabilities – some children who have had polio can’t walk or can only walk with the help of sticks. Sometimes the paralysis affects the lungs and when this happens children with polio stop may stop breathing and die.

Even though almost all the countries of the world are safe from polio and very few children catch the disease, it is still dangerous. Polio is still active in 10 countries, especially countries with remote areas, and countries that have suffered wars. Today, there are only three countries that have polio transmission inside their boundaries: they are Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

‘Odongo, Opio and Akello caught polio when there was an epidemic some years ago. They and a lot of other children were all ill with it. They were left paralysed and will always be disabled.’

You can see more pictures at Polio Eradication.

An Indian boy’s legs are shrunken from paralysis caused by polio - photo from WHO/T. Moran.
In Chad, six-year-old Terrance Denerobo, who has been paralysed by polio, fixes his shoe while a health worker adjusts his leg braces.

Signs and symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Stiff neck
  • Pain in the arms and legs


There is no treatment for polio – it can only be prevented by immunisation and babies must be immunised when they are just a week old and then several more times afterwards.


Children are immunised by swallowing a few drops of a liquid (‘polio drops’) or sometimes an injection. The polio drops have to be kept cold and may have travelled many thousands of miles before they reach the child – keeping the drops cold as they are transported across countries to reach children is called ‘the cold chain’.

Children must have FOUR doses of the polio drops: at birth and at six, 10 and 14 weeks old.

If a child who has had their drops gets diarrhoea or a cold they may not work so they should have the drops again four weeks later.

Further Reading