Health care providers often recognize polio by symptoms, such as neck and back stiffness or abnormal reflexes or muscle weakness. To confirm the diagnosis, a lab test of a stool sample can detect the poliovirus. The virus can be found in a throat sample only during the first week of illness. So a throat sample is a less reliable source for testing.

A test of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord, or cerebrospinal fluid, may be used to rule out other diseases of the nervous system.


Because no cure for polio exists, the focus is on increasing comfort, speeding recovery and preventing complications. Depending on the severity of disease, supportive treatments may include:

  • Bed rest
  • Pain relievers
  • Hot moist packs to control muscle pain and spasms
  • Portable ventilators to help with breathing
  • Physical therapy exercises to prevent bone deformity and loss of muscle function
  • Splints or other devices to encourage good position, or alignment, of the spine and limbs

Preparing for your appointment

The signs and symptoms of moderate to severe polio — beyond typical flu-like symptoms — need attention right away. Questions that you might be prepared to answer for yourself or on behalf of your child include the following:

  • When did the symptoms begin?
  • Have the symptoms progressed or changed since you first became ill?
  • Has anything improved or worsened the symptoms?
  • Have you traveled recently? Where?
  • Do you know of any possible exposure to an infectious disease?
  • If you traveled, what vaccinations did you get before travel?