Child with a severely deformed leg due to polio

What is Polio?
Polio is a crippling and potentially deadly infectious disease caused by a virus that invades the brain and spinal cord and causing paralysis. Polio is spread by person-to-person contact.

The Statistics
Polio was one of the most dreaded childhood diseases of the 20th century with annual epidemics, primarily during the summer months. Before polio vaccines were available, polio outbreaks caused more than 15,000 cases of paralysis each year in the U.S. Because polio can paralyze the diaphragm, in the 1940s and 1950s, entire wards of hospitals housed polio victims who were dependent on large iron lungs that breathed for them.

Thanks to the discovery of the vaccine, polio has been eradicated from the United States and the entire Western Hemisphere. We continue to vaccinate against polio because it still remains a threat in some countries and could easily be transported by an infected person back into the United States.

The Vaccine
Inactive Polio Vaccine (IPV) protects against polio. Children need four doses of the vaccine. The first dose is given at 2 months, the second dose at 4 months, the third dose is given between 6 and 18 months of age and the fourth dose is given between 4 and 6 years old.

Most adults do not need polio vaccine because they were already vaccinated as children. However, some adults are at higher risk and should consider polio vaccination in the following situations:

  • You are traveling to polio-endemic or high-risk areas of the world.

  • You are working in a laboratory and handling specimens that might contain polioviruses.

  • You are a healthcare worker treating patients who could have polio or have close contact with a person who could be infected with poliovirus.

Adults in these three groups who have never been vaccinated against polio should get 3 doses of IPV: Adults in these three groups who have had 1 or 2 doses of polio vaccine in the past should get the remaining 1 or 2 doses. It doesn’t matter how long it has been since the earlier dose(s). Adults who are at increased risk of exposure to poliovirus and who have previously completed a routine series of polio vaccine can receive one lifetime booster dose of IPV.

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