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Diseases / Polio


What is it?: 

Poliomyelitis is an acute communicable disease caused by any of 3 poliovirus serotypes (types 1, 2 or 3). In the pre-vaccine era when poliovirus was the leading cause of permanent disability in children, almost all children became infected by polioviruses, with on average 1 in 200 susceptible individuals developing paralytic poliomyelitis.1

Clinical features: 

The disease mainly affects young children. It can cause fever, headache, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, muscle pain, stiffness in the neck and back, and paralysis. Most patients will recover, but in severe cases, it can lead to permanent disability and death.2

Mode of transmission: 

The disease is highly infectious. It is spread from person-to-person, mainly through the faecal-oral route. The virus enters the body through oral route and finally invades the central nervous system.2

Incubation period: 

It is usually 7 to 10 days, with a range of 4 to 35 days.2


Vaccination is the most effective way of preventing the disease. There are two types of polio vaccine: Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) to be taken by mouth and Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV) to be given by injection. As OPV is known to be associated with a rare complication known as vaccine-associated paralytic poliomyelitis, IPV has been used in the Hong Kong Childhood Immunisation Programme since 2007. OPV is no longer used in Hong Kong.2


Suspected infected persons should be referred to the hospital for further management and isolation. Currently, there is no curative treatment for the disease.2

Since the patient’s stool may contain the virus, carers should take extra precautions in the hygiene practices when caring for the sick.2


  1. World Health Organization. Weekly epidemiological record. Polio vaccines: WHO position paper – March 2016. 2016;12(91):145-168.
  2. Centre for Health Protection. Communicable diseases – Poliomyelitis. 10 Dec 2019. [ONLINE] Accessed 15 Mar 2021.