Understanding How Polio Spreads: Beware, it is Highly Contagious!

By  ,  Onlymyhealth editorial team
Feb 04, 2013

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Quick Bites

  • The poliovirus resides only in humans.
  • It enters the environment in the faeces of infected person.
  • It spreads primarily through the faecal-oral route.
  • Polio is common in areas where sanitation is inadequate.

Polio is a highly contagious illness that can spread easily from person to person. In fact, when a person is infected with polio, it is expected that polio transmission among susceptible household contacts will occur in nearly 100 percent of children and over 90 percent of adults. Polio is also known as:

  • Poliomyelitis
  • Infantile paralysis
  • Polio disease.

When a person is infected with poliovirus, the virus resides in the intestinal tract and mucus in the nose and throat. Poliovirus transmission most often occurs through contact with stool of this infected person (known as fecal-oral transmission). Less frequently, polio transmission can occur through contact with infected respiratory secretions or saliva (oral-oral transmission).

How Polio Spreads

Fecal-Oral Polio Transmission

Polio transmission most often occurs through contact with stool from an infected person. This spread of poliovirus can happen in one of several ways, which include:

  • Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with poliovirus. Poliovirus is commonly found in sewage water.
  • Touching surfaces or objects contaminated with poliovirus (for instance, by changing diapers), and then placing the contaminated hand in the mouth.
  • Sharing foods or eating utensils with someone infected with poliovirus.


Oral-Oral Polio Transmission

Less commonly, polio transmission occurs through contact with respiratory droplets or saliva. When an infected person sneezes or coughs, droplets spray into the air. The infected mucus or saliva can land in other people's noses or throats when they breathe or put their fingers in their mouth, nose, or eyes after touching an infected surface.

Image: Getty

Read more articles on Understand Polio.

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