What is polio?
Polio is a disease caused by a virus that is mainly spread by person-to-person contact and eating or drinking items contaminated with the feces of an infected person. Polio can also be spread through water, other drinks, and raw or undercooked food.
Most people with polio do not feel sick. Some people have only minor symptoms, such as fever, tiredness, nausea, headache, nasal congestion, sore throat, cough, stiffness in the neck and back, and pain in the arms and legs. Most people recover completely. In rare cases, polio causes permanent loss of muscle function in the arms or legs (usually the legs) or death.
From the late 1940s to the early 1950s, polio crippled around 35,000 people each year in the United States alone, making it one of the most feared diseases of the 20th century. By 1979, the United States was polio free. For more information about polio and how it was eradicated in the United States, see A Polio-Free U.S. Thanks to Vaccine Efforts.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched in 1988, with CDC as a leading partner to stop the spread of polio. Substantial progress has been made in recent years, and only 3 countries remain where polio has never been stopped: Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan. The affected areas in these 3 countries have become smaller. Until polio is stopped everywhere, even polio-free countries are at risk for outbreaks.
Who is at risk?
Travelers going to certain parts of Africa and Asia may be at risk for polio. Everyone should be up-to-date with their routine polio vaccination series. In addition, a one-time adult polio vaccine booster dose is recommended for travelers to certain countries. See individual destination pages for vaccine recommendation information.
What can travelers do to prevent polio?
Get the polio vaccine:
- Ask your doctor or nurse to find out if you are up-to-date with your polio vaccination and whether you need a booster dose before traveling. Even if you were vaccinated as a child or have been sick with polio before, you may need a booster dose to make sure that you are protected. See individual destination pages for vaccine recommendation information.
- Make sure children are vaccinated.
- See Vaccine Information Statements (VIS) for more information.
Eat safe foods:
- Food that is cooked and served hot
- Hard-cooked eggs
- Fruits and vegetables you have washed in clean water or peeled yourself
- Pasteurized dairy products
- Food served at room temperature
- Food from street vendors
- Raw or soft-cooked (runny) eggs
- Raw or undercooked (rare) meat or fish
- Unwashed or unpeeled raw fruits and vegetables
- Peelings from fruit or vegetables
- Condiments (such as salsa) made with fresh ingredients
- Unpasteurized dairy products
- ”Bushmeat” (monkeys, bats, or other wild game)
Drink safe beverages:
- Bottled water that is sealed (carbonated is safer)
- Water that has been disinfected (boiled, filtered, treated)
- Ice made with bottled or disinfected water
- Carbonated drinks
- Hot coffee or tea
- Pasteurized milk
- For more information, see Food and Water Safety.
- Tap or well water
- Ice made with tap or well water
- Drinks made with tap or well water (such as reconstituted juice)
- Flavored ice and popsicles
- Unpasteurized milk
Practice hygiene and cleanliness:
- Wash your hands often.
- If soap and water aren’t available, clean hands with hand sanitizer (containing at least 60% alcohol).
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. If you need to touch your face, make sure your hands are clean.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
- Try to avoid close contact, such as kissing, hugging, or sharing eating utensils or cups with people who are sick.