Infantile paralysis

Infantile paralysis is highly contagious and caused by the poliomyelitis virus.


Infantile paralysis is highly contagious and caused by the poliomyelitis virus. The disease can produce no symptoms or show general symptoms such as fatigue, fever, headaches and muscle pain. However, if the virus attacks the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord), it can cause paralysis and shortness of breath. This can have long-term consequences. It’s important to vaccinate yourself and your children.


  • In 90% of patients, the infection is asymptomatic
  • In 4 to 8% of patients, the central nervous system (CNS, i.e. brain and spinal cord) aren't affected
  • If CNS is affected
    • Meningitis with headache and painful and stiff neck
    • Back pain and muscle cramps
    • Sometimes, the head falls back when patient tries to lift it
    • Paralytic poliomyelitis (max. 1%): waking up paralysed in the morning or development of soft, asymmetric and often painful paralysis over a few hours
  • Complications
    • Can also affect the brain stem and respiratory muscles (acute breathing problems)
    • This can have long-term consequences

Causes and treatment


  • Infantile paralysis is caused by the poliomyelitis virus
  • The poliovirus only affects people
  • Transmission
    • Smear infection (putting infected fingers on or in the mouth)
    • Contaminated food and water
    • More rarely, droplet infection (talking, sneezing, coughing)
  • Shedding of virus
    • Initially through mucous membranes in the nose and throat
    • Later, through faeces for up to 6 weeks (chronic carrier)

Further treatment by your doctor / in hospital

Possible tests
  • Identification of infection: stool samples, throat swab or analysis of cerebrospinal fluid
Possible therapies
  • The “best therapy” is vaccination
  • Otherwise, only the symptoms can be treated (pain therapy, bed rest)
  • Paralysed patients: must be frequently turned, passive moving of joints, artificial respiration, if necessary
  • Long-term rehabilitation, physiotherapy, sometimes orthopaedic treatment is required

What can I do myself?

  • Vaccination in accordance with the Swiss vaccination schedule
    • Booster shot (if last vaccination was done more than 10 years ago)
    • Vaccination is of particular importance in childhood
  • Exposure prevention in risk countries
    • No contact with sick persons
    • Wash hands very thoroughly with soap
    • Boil water and milk before drinking

When to see a doctor?

  • For a vaccination
  • Signs of paralysis
  • Shortness of breath
  • Stiff neck
  • After a trip to a risk country
    • Severe headache accompanied by fever
    • Other signs of a general illness

Further information

Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH)


infantile paralysis, poliomyelitis, polio

Exclusion of liability

CSS offers no guarantee for the accuracy and completeness of the information. The information published is no substitute for professional advice from a doctor or pharmacist.