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Pediatric Poliomyelitis

  • Author: Benjamin Estrada, MD; Chief Editor: Russell W Steele, MD  more...
Updated: May 24, 2016


Poliomyelitis is an enteroviral infection that can manifest in 4 different forms: inapparent infection, abortive disease, nonparalytic poliomyelitis, and paralytic disease. Before the 19th century, poliomyelitis occurred sporadically. During the 19th and 20th centuries, epidemic poliomyelitis was more frequently observed, reaching its peak in the mid 1950s. The worldwide prevalence of this infection has decreased significantly since then because of aggressive immunization programs. Eradication of this disease during the present decade is a top priority for the World Health Organization (WHO).[1, 2] See the image below.

The typical contractures of postpolio residual par The typical contractures of postpolio residual paralysis.

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Poliovirus is an RNA virus that is transmitted through the oral-fecal route or by ingestion of contaminated water. Three serotypes are able to cause human infection. The incubation period for poliovirus is 5-35 days. The viral particles initially replicate in the nasopharynx and GI tract and then invade lymphoid tissues, with subsequent hematologic spread. After a period of viremia, the virus becomes neurotropic and produces destruction of the motor neurons in the anterior horn and brainstem. The destruction of motor neurons leads to the development of flaccid paralysis, which may be bulbar or spinal in distribution.




United States

No cases of wild-type poliovirus infection have been reported in the United States since 1979. Until 1998, an average of 8-10 cases associated with the vaccine virus were reported every year. Since the institution of an all-inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) policy in the routine immunization schedule, the number of vaccine-associated cases has significantly decreased. Four cases of vaccine-derived poliovirus were identified in 2005 among unvaccinated children in an Amish community in Minnesota.[3, 4]


The global incidence of poliovirus infection has decreased by more than 99% since 1988. Although no outbreaks had been reported in the western hemisphere since 1991, the Pan American Health Organization reported an outbreak in Haiti and the Dominican Republic in 2001. Since 2001, no additional outbreaks of disease caused by wild poliovirus have been reported in the Americas. Clusters of wild-type disease are still found in some areas in Africa and Southeast Asia.

As of 2014, significant progress has been made towards poliomyelitis eradication in India, which is now considered a nonendemic area.[5, 6] Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria are 4 countries in which indigenous transmission of wild poliovirus still occurs. However, importation of wild poliovirus into countries previously considered free of poliomyelitis continues to be a problem, especially in Africa.[7, 8] In addition, there have been recently confirmed cases of poliomyelitis in Syria and Iraq caused by wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1).[9]

Concern for importation of cases from Afghanistan and Pakistan into Israel has resulted in a change in their routine polio immunization to include at least one dose of oral vaccine. In 2014, India began requiring a dose of oral polio vaccine for anyone coming from countries where polio is still seen, particularly Afghanistan and Pakistan.[10]


Mortality is more frequently observed in cases of paralytic poliomyelitis and is associated with complications such as respiratory failure. No deaths due to wild-type poliovirus have been reported in the United States since 1979.

Although most cases of poliomyelitis (90-95%) are inapparent, 5-10% of patients who acquire this infection develop symptoms.


Males and females of pediatric age are affected with equal frequency.


Poliovirus affects mainly children. However, individuals of any age (especially those who are immunocompromised) may also develop the disease.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Benjamin Estrada, MD Professor, Department of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, University of South Alabama College of Medicine, University of South Alabama Children's and Women's Hospital

Benjamin Estrada, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, Infectious Diseases Society of America, Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Mary L Windle, PharmD Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Larry I Lutwick, MD Professor of Medicine, State University of New York Downstate Medical School; Director, Infectious Diseases, Veterans Affairs New York Harbor Health Care System, Brooklyn Campus

Larry I Lutwick, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians, Infectious Diseases Society of America

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Russell W Steele, MD Clinical Professor, Tulane University School of Medicine; Staff Physician, Ochsner Clinic Foundation

Russell W Steele, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of Immunologists, American Pediatric Society, American Society for Microbiology, Infectious Diseases Society of America, Louisiana State Medical Society, Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, Society for Pediatric Research, Southern Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Leonard R Krilov, MD Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and International Adoption, Vice Chair, Department of Pediatrics, Winthrop University Hospital; Professor of Pediatrics, Stony Brook University School of Medicine

Leonard R Krilov, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Pediatric Society, Infectious Diseases Society of America, Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, Society for Pediatric Research

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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The typical contractures of postpolio residual paralysis.
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