Polio (poliomyelitis)


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What is polio?

Polio (poliomyelitis) is a contagious disease that can be prevented by vaccination. It is caused by poliovirus type 1, 2 or 3.

It is spread from person to person and through contaminated food and water. Polio can attack the central nervous system and destroy the nerve cells that activate muscles, which may cause paralysis and death. It mainly affects children under age five; however, infection and paralysis may occur in individuals of any age who are not immune.

What is my risk?

There may be a risk for travellers going to countries where polio has not been eliminated (endemic) or where cases have occurred recently. The risk depends on living conditions, length of stay and exposure to contaminated food and water.

How is it transmitted?

  • Polio is spread mainly through fecal-oral transmission. For example, by eating food or drinking water contaminated through poor personal hygiene, poor sanitation, or poor control of sewage. 

  • It can also be spread through close personal contact with secretions (fluids) from an infected person’s nose and throat, for example, when they sneeze or cough.

What are the symptoms?          

  • Most people have no symptoms when they are infected. 

  • Symptoms can take three to 35 days to appear.

  • Some people develop mild symptoms including fever, fatigue, sore throat, stiffness in the neck, muscle aches and pains, headache, nausea and vomiting.

  • In more severe cases, the disease affects the spinal cord or brain, causing paralysis, and sometimes death.

Can polio be treated?

There is no cure for polio, only treatment to help alleviate the symptoms.

Where is polio a concern?

  • Polio has not been eliminated in three countries: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. 

  • Countries can also be affected by polio outbreaks if the polio virus has been imported from the above three countries or those where the virus has been detected. 

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative provides a map of infected districts and a list of countries with confirmed cases of polio

Recommendations

Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.

  1. Get vaccinated
    • All travellers should be vaccinated if they are going to:
      • Countries where polio has not been eliminated.
      • Countries with recently imported cases of polio, or where the virus has been detected.
      • Countries close to those where polio has not been eliminated or those where the virus has been detected.
    • For infants and children under 18 years of age
    • For adults 18 years of age and older:
      • If you have completed your polio vaccine series and have not received a booster dose against polio since your 18th birthday, get a one-time booster dose before leaving.
      • If you have not completed your polio vaccine series, get the remaining doses before leaving.
      • If you have not received any vaccines against polio, get fully vaccinated against polio.
  2. Practise safe food and water precautions

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