Polio is a serious infection caused by a virus (poliovirus) that can affect the brain and nerves – this can cause permanent paralysis of muscles which makes you unable to move part or all of your body. It is rare but can be very serious for unvaccinated people. In 2022 poliovirus was found in sewage in London.
The best way to prevent polio is to make sure that you and your child are up to date with your vaccinations. The polio vaccine is offered to children as part of the NHS routine childhood vaccinations; these are the vaccines that are offered to all babies and children for free by the NHS. The chance of getting ill from polio is higher if you are not fully vaccinated against it.
Check your child’s vaccination record for the polio vaccine
You can find out if your child is up to date with their vaccinations by checking their red book, or speaking to your GP if you are not sure. Vaccinations are usually listed by their initials in the red book.
The polio vaccine is given to babies, toddlers, and teenagers as part of the NHS routine childhood vaccination schedule when your child is:
- 8, 12 and 16 weeks old as part of the 6-in-1 vaccine – listed in the red book as DTaP/IPV/Hib (if given from 2004 – 2017) or DTaP/IPV/Hib/HepB (if given after September 2017).
- 3 years and 4 months old as part of the 4-in-1 pre-school booster – listed in the red book as (DTaP/IPV)
- around 14 years old as part of the 3-in-1 teenage booster (Td/IPV) given in year 9 or 10. (This won’t be in the red book which only goes up to age 5.)
If they have missed a dose or you are not sure, contact your GP as soon as you can – it is never too late to catch up.
Leaflets about the polio vaccine
If you have moved to the UK
Different countries offer different vaccines. If you have moved to the UK, it is good to check with your GP to make sure you and your children have had all of the vaccines we offer for free here in England. If you have missed any of the vaccines, you may still need protection, even at an older age. Ask your GP or nurse to check if you need a catch-up dose.
Anyone in England can register with a GP practice and see a doctor or nurse for free. You do not need to provide proof of identity, address or of immigration status in order to register with a GP practice. This also applies if you are an asylum seeker, refugee, a homeless patient or an overseas visitor, whether lawfully in the UK or not.
More information: Immunisation information for people who have moved to the UK
Symptoms of polio
Most people with polio won’t have any symptoms and will fight off the infection without even realising they were infected. A small number of people will experience a flu-like illness 3 to 21 days after they’re infected.
Symptoms can include:
- a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
- a sore throat
- a headache
- abdominal (tummy) pain
- aching muscles
- feeling and being sick
These symptoms will usually pass within about a week without any medical intervention.
In less than 1% of cases the polio virus attacks the nerves in the spine and base of the brain. This can cause paralysis, meaning you are unable to move part or all of your body, developing over hours or days.
The paralysis isn’t usually permanent. Movement will often slowly return over the next few weeks and months, but many people are left with ongoing problems.
If the muscles used for breathing are affected, it can be life threatening.
Call 999 or go to A&E if you or your child:
are not able to move part, or all, of your body – the body part may also feel stiff, floppy or numb
are having difficulty breathing or are breathless