Alberta Health Services
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.
Anyone who is not immune to polio, regardless of age, can become infected with polio.
Those most at risk of polio are:
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.
Most people who get infected with the polio virus won’t show any symptoms but they can still spread the disease to others.
About 1 out of 4 people infected with polio may have symptoms. Polio symptoms may include:
Polio symptoms can get worse and lead to paralysis.
If you have been exposed to polio, call Health Link at 811 before visiting any hospital, clinic, or healthcare provider. The registered nurse who answers your call will guide you on the next steps.
If you have been exposed to polio and are showing symptoms, you should see a doctor right away. It is important to let the doctor or nurses know that you may have polio before visiting the hospital or clinic. This is so that they can take precautions to prevent others from being exposed to polio.
Polio can be prevented by getting a vaccine. The polio vaccine you get by an injection (needle) is called IPV.
In Alberta, the polio vaccine is typically given as a combination vaccine as part of the routine immunization schedule.
The type of polio vaccine you get depends on your age and if you need protection from other diseases.
Some children may have had oral polio vaccine (OPV) which is given by mouth. OPV used to be given in Canada and is still being given in some other countries. If your child got OPV after April 1, 2016, they may not be fully protected against all types of polio, and they need to get IPV to be fully protected.
Immunization is the best way to protect against and limit the spread of polio, along with regular handwashing and avoiding close contact with people who have polio.
If you or someone in your home has polio or has been in contact with the polio virus, a healthcare professional will talk to you about how to prevent spreading polio to others. This includes:
To find out if you need a polio vaccine for travel and when you need it:
It is best to contact a private travel clinic, your doctor, or your pharmacist at least 6 weeks before you travel.
Contact your local public health or community health centre to find out if you need any routine immunizations.