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Polio

Polio used to be common in the United States. Before the polio vaccine, the disease killed thousands of people every year. Thanks to the polio vaccine, there hasn’t been a new case of polio in the United States in over 35 years.

Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent polio.

Polio is a very contagious disease — it spreads easily from person to person. Most people who get polio don’t have any serious problems. But in some cases, polio can be very dangerous and lead to permanent disabilities — and even death.

Even though it’s rare in the United States, polio still exists in a few countries in Asia and Africa. So it’s possible for people to get polio when they travel — and spread it to people who aren’t vaccinated when they come home.

When you and your family get vaccinated, you’re doing your part to make sure that polio doesn’t become a problem in the United States again.

Polio is caused by a virus. Most people who get polio don’t have any symptoms. When people do get symptoms, they may include:

  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Upset stomach
  • Headache
  • Stomach pain

Sometimes polio can affect the brain, and lead to serious — and permanent — complications like:

  • Paresthesia (feeling pins and needles)
  • Inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord
  • Paralysis (not being able to move)

Polio usually spreads when someone gets certain body fluids or poop from a person with polio on their hands and then touches their own mouth. Polio spreads when:

  • Someone who has polio coughs or sneezes
  • Someone who has polio doesn’t wash their hands properly after going to the bathroom and then touches food or objects

Learn more about polio.

All children need to get the polio vaccine — and some adults may need it, too.

Infants and children

All children need 4 doses of the polio vaccine as part of their routine vaccine schedule.

Children need doses at the following ages:

  • 2 months for the first dose
  • 4 months for the second dose
  • 6 through 18 months for the third dose
  • 4 through 6 years for the fourth dose

Adults

Some adults who are at higher risk of getting polio may need 1 to 3 doses of the polio vaccine, depending on whether they’ve been vaccinated in the past. You may need to get the polio vaccine if you:

  • Are traveling to countries where polio is spreading
  • Study polio in a lab
  • Are a health care professional who works with people who could have polio

Talk with your doctor about how to protect your family from polio.

Some people should not get the polio vaccine — or may need to wait to get it. Be sure to tell your doctor before getting vaccinated if you:

  • Have had a life-threatening allergic reaction to the polio vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine
  • Have any serious allergies
  • Are sick

Side effects are usually mild and go away in a few days. The most common side effect people have is a sore spot where they got the shot.

Like any medicine, there’s a very small chance that the polio vaccine could cause a serious reaction. Keep in mind that getting the polio vaccine is much safer than getting polio. Learn more about vaccine side effects.

Vaccine Information Statements (VISs) have detailed information about recommended vaccines.

Last reviewed: January 2018