Main navigation english

Canadian Public Health Association

Poliomyelitis and its prevention

Nurses vaccinating adults
View a larger image

Two Public Health Nurses are vaccinating adults at a polio clinic in Southey, SK. [ca. 1960]

The poliomyelitis virus grows in the intestines and spreads through contaminated food and water.

Most people who are infected have no symptoms or only a mild fever. About one in a hundred infected people will have permanent paralysis.

The most severe form (bulbar polio) attacks the central nervous system and destroys the nerve cells that activate muscles. It can kill within hours of infection, but over 90% of those infected have either no symptoms or only a temporary fever.

There is no cure for polio but the disease can be prevented by vaccination.

The Virus

There are three different strains of the polio virus, which enters the body through the mouth and multiplies in the intestine.

After the initial infection, the virus is shed in feces (excrement) for several weeks, but most people do not know they were affected. Polio can only be prevented by immunization, given multiple times.

The disease has been eliminated in most of the world, except India, Nigeria and Pakistan.

More information

Photo credit

  • Two Public Health Nurses: Canadian Nurses Association/Library and Archives Canada / e002504596