Polio epidemic

Where can I find information about the polio epidemic?

Entry last updated: 27/05/22


Poliomyelitis, or polio, is a highly contagious infection caused by a virus, called the poliovirus. Complications from polio depend on which part of the body is affected by the virus. If it affects the spinal cord and nervous system it can cause paralysis and even death. Children and teenagers are more at risk. There is no cure for this disease, but it can be prevented by the polio vaccine.

General websites

Here are some reliable websites to help you understand more about polio, its history, causes, symptoms, treatment and immunisation against the disease.

Britannica School

Britannica School, the online version of Encyclopedia Britannica is part of the EPIC databases. EPIC is a collection of reliable databases covering lots of different topics. It is put together especially for New Zealand school students and helps to answer questions about polio.

Use these steps to search for information about polio.

  • Choose Middle as your level.

  • Enter the keyword 'polio' into the search bar.

  • Select to read poliomyelitis (pathology).

  • To get more or less information change the article Reading Level at the top of the article.

Tips: To get to the EPIC resources you will need a password from your school librarian first. Or you can chat with one of our AnyQuestions librarians between 1 and 6pm Monday to Friday and they will help you online. Some EPIC databases may also be available through your public library.

World Health Organisation (WHO)

The main work of the WHO is to coordinate and support international health systems in countries that are part of the United Nations.

  • Go to the tab called Health Topics and select the letter P.

  • Find a link to Poliomyelitis (polio) to read fact sheets, news, data on polio vaccinations, and WHO actions like the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

  • Further down the page are links to multimedia, events and stories related to polio vaccination and response to outbreaks.

Tips: Many web pages have links to further information or to other recommended sites. Following these links is a great way to find out more. This searching method is called “pearl growing” because you are picking up pieces of sand to make a beautiful pearl!

The History of Vaccines

This American based website has a good timeline of the vaccine and information about symptoms and causes of polio, as well as how it is transmitted.

  • First, choose Articles from the options at the top of the page.

  • Then from the headings down the left-hand side choose Vaccine-Preventable Diseases.

  • Next, choose the article called History of Polio (Poliomyelitis).

Tips: Websites that have .org or .net in the address can have good information, but you need to assess how reliable it is. Check the About link on the website, if you can find one. That can tell you what the organisation’s mission and values are. We like this website because we can tell it is researched and written by The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, and its aims are educational.

New Zealand sites

New Zealand experienced polio epidemics from the 1920s to the 1960s. Thanks to the vaccine, several countries around the world including New Zealand have eliminated polio completely. The websites below will guide you to more information about the impact polio had in New Zealand.

Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Te Ara is an excellent starting point for all questions about New Zealand Aotearoa. If we scroll down to the bottom of the page we can see that the website belongs to the Ministry for Culture & Heritage, so the information is well-researched and reliable.

To find information about epidemics in New Zealand, including polio, follow this pathway:

To find out about New Zealanders whose lives were changed by polio:

  • Search for 'polio'.

  • Choose results from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.

  • This has several biographies of people who were affected by polio in different ways eg Alice June Norma Opie.


NZHistory is another great website from the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, for information about New Zealand Aotearoa.

  • Use the search bar to search for the keyword 'polio'.

  • Read about the mass vaccination against polio in 1962 - key events.

Tips: Search words, or keywords, are the most important words in our question. Usually it’s better to leave out small words like ‘the’, ‘a’ and ‘of’ and just choose the main ones, eg [polio]. We can always change our keywords or add more if we need to.

Ministry of Health

This website from New Zealand's Ministry of Health has information about lots of different diseases that affect people in New Zealand, immunisation programmes and guidelines to help prevent them.

  • From the home page, go to Your Health, then select Conditions and treatments.

  • Scroll down the page to Polio.

  • Use the tabs to read information about the symptoms, treatment and prevention of polio in New Zealand.

Tips: We like sites like this because they’re reliable. You can tell because of their web address – they have either .govt or .ac, meaning they are from government or educational organisations. They’re also New Zealand sites, so relevant for us.


This is the website of the New Zealand society dedicated to supporting people who have had polio and are living with its effects.

  • Take a look under About us to find the history of polio in New Zealand.

  • Also under this tab are survivor stories about people's experiences with polio and how they survived.


Have a look at these books or ask your school or local librarian for more recommendations.

SCIS no: 5368738

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