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What is it and how is it spread?

Polio is an infection caused by a virus that is usually transmitted via water contaminated with the faeces of someone with the disease or through direct contact with an infected person. Most people with the disease do not have any symptoms, but can still pass on the virus to other people. When serious, it can cause meningitis or paralysis, although this is very rare.1,2

Polio is extremely rare in travellers from the UK, and the last case of a traveller from the UK returning home with polio was in 1993.2 In 1988, a global initiative was launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) to try to eradicate polio across the world, and since then worldwide rates have dropped by more than 99%. Polio is now only found in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.1,2 However, the rest of the world is still at risk of polio from infected travellers bringing it from these countries,2 meaning that it is important to continue to work to prevent the spread of the disease.

Who is at risk?

Although polio is much rarer than it has been in previous decades, there is still a risk of getting the disease in areas where the virus is still circulating. This risk is highest if you are visiting areas where there is poor hygiene and you may be in direct contact with infected people.1,2

What are the symptoms and how can it be treated?

Most people who get polio do not show symptoms. When there are symptoms they can range from a mild illness with a temperature to symptoms of meningitis, including fever, headache, nausea (feeling sick), vomiting and sensitivity to light.3 In very rare cases, polio can cause paralysis.2

Treatment for polio mainly includes increasing comfort for anyone suffering with the symptoms. For people who experience paralysis of the muscles involved in breathing, assisted breathing may be required.1

How can it be prevented?

In the UK polio vaccine is given as part of the routine immunisation schedule. All travellers should be up to date with their routine immunisations. Some travellers may require a booster dose of vaccine and you should discuss your personal risk with your travel healthcare professional.2

If travelling to an area where there may be polio, you should practise good personal hygiene, and try to avoid contaminated food and water.2

Where can I get further information?

Make sure you contact your GP or travel health practitioner in plenty of time before you travel to discuss the ways you can help to keep yourself healthy whilst away. You should try and contact them at least 4–6 weeks before your trip.

After your trip, you should contact your GP if you develop a fever or notice any other unusual symptoms.

  1. 1. Fit For Travel. Poliomyelitis. Available at: Accessed August 2017.
  2. Travel Health Pro. Polio. Available at: Accessed August 2017.
  3. Travel Health Pro. Meningococcal disease. Available at: Accessed August 2017.

Date of preparation: November 2017