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Learn about polio, who is at risk, and how it spreads.

About polio

Polio is an infection of the nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and nerves) caused by a virus.

In rare cases, polio can lead to paralysis (not being able to move all or part of your body) and death.

At its peak, before vaccines, polio infected more than 5,000 Canadians every year.

There is no cure for polio.

Who is most at risk?

Anyone who is not immune to polio, regardless of age, can become infected with polio.

Those most at risk of polio are:

  • Children who have not had a polio vaccine.
  • Travellers going to areas that have a high risk of polio.
  • People who live in areas where there is a high risk of polio or an outbreak of polio.
  • People who work at a wastewater treatment plant and are exposed to sewage.
  • Anyone who has close contact with people from areas where there is high risk of polio.
  • Anyone who has close contact with babies from other countries who may have been immunized with oral polio vaccine in the last 6 weeks.

How it spreads

Polio is very contagious and can easily spread from one person to others.

Polio spreads through stool (poop) infected with the polio virus. The infected stool can get onto your hands or into your food and water, and then into your mouth.

Polio can also spread through droplets when a person with the virus sneezes or coughs. But this is less common.

Most people infected with polio don’t have symptoms, but they can still spread the disease.

Current as of: July 1, 2024
Author: Provincial Immunization Program, Alberta Health Services
Our work takes place on historical and contemporary Indigenous lands, including the territories of Treaty 6, Treaty 7 & Treaty 8 and the homeland of the Métis Nation of Alberta and 8 Métis Settlements. We also acknowledge the many Indigenous communities that have been forged in urban centres across Alberta.