Te whakamemeke Polio

Polio (poliomyelitis) is a viral disease that spreads very easily. It can cause muscle weakness or paralysis. Aotearoa New Zealand has not had cases of polio for many years but cases are increasing across the world and could come here. Immunisation is the only protection against it.

Risk of polio returning to Aotearoa New Zealand

Symptoms of polio

Most people infected with polio do not have symptoms.

For people that do, the symptoms are:

  • headache
  • runny poos (diarrhoea)
  • tiredness
  • stiffness of the neck and back due to meningitis
  • pain in the arms, legs, back or neck — with or without paralysis.

Symptoms can start from 3 to 35 days after having contact with polio.

Who to contact for medical advice

If you have symptoms that you are worried about:

  • contact your usual doctor or healthcare provider
  • call Healthline for free advice 0800 611 116
  • call 111 for an ambulance in an emergency.

Complications of polio

The overall risk of paralysis is about 1 in 100. The chance is higher for adults.

About 1 in 20 people hospitalised from polio die.

Post-polio syndrome can happen 15 to 40 years after polio. It causes muscle pain and worsening muscle weakness or paralysis.

Healthify has information on post-polio syndrome and ways to manage it.

Polio and post-polio syndrome — Healthify (external link)

How polio spreads

The polio virus is found in fluids from the nose and throat.

When someone with polio coughs, sneezes or talks, they release droplets into the air. You can catch polio by breathing in the droplets.

You can also catch it if you come into contact with their poo (faeces) then touch your mouth without washing your hands. For example after going to the toilet or changing a babies’ nappies

Polio lasts in the throat for a week and up to 6 weeks or more in the gut. You can give polio to someone else from a few days before symptoms start to many weeks afterwards.

Diagnosing polio

Your doctor or healthcare provider can do tests to check if you have polio. They will look at your symptoms and do a lab test of a poo (stool) sample to confirm it.

A healthcare provider might do other tests to make sure it is not a different condition.

Staying home

If you have polio or have been in contact with someone with polio, public health services will contact you to tell you what you need to do. They will support you with advice on how to keep yourself and your whānau safe during your illness. 

Contact with others should be limited but strict isolation may not be necessary.

If you do not hear from them, phone Healthline for more information. 

Call Healthline on 0800 611 116 

Treatment for polio

There is no cure for polio — it can only be prevented by immunisation.

People with polio affected by paralysis need hospital care. Some people need long term treatment for paralysis.

Preventing polio

Immunisation provides excellent protection from polio. In Aotearoa New Zealand it is given as an injection because it is the best protection against paralysis.

It is important to protect pēpi and tamariki from polio by getting them immunised on time.

The polio vaccine is also available and funded for adults who did not receive their childhood vaccines.

Find out about the 2 polio vaccines, who they are for and when to get them:

Travelling to areas with polio

Polio is currently spreading around the world. In 2022 it was spreading in 34 countries - including ones New Zealanders commonly travel to.

Travellers should check if there is polio in the country they are visiting and make sure they have been vaccinated prior to departure. This can be done through your general practice or usual health provider.

Countries may have rules on polio vaccinations and entering or leaving their country — find out what you need to do before you travel.

Find the current list of polio infected countries.

Countries with Polio — Polio Global Eradication Initiative (external link)

Travelling from areas with polio

Polio is still in some overseas countries. It can be brought into Aotearoa New Zealand by visitors or people moving here.

If you were in a country with polio for more than 4 weeks and want to travel to Aotearoa New Zealand you might need an up-to-date polio immunisation.

Countries may have rules on polio vaccinations and entering or leaving their country — find out what you need to do before you travel on government travel and immigration websites.

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