Polio Vaccination Recommendations and Safety
WHAT IS POLIOMYELITIS ?
Poliomyelitis (or polio) is a contagious infectious disease caused by the polio virus and affecting the nervous system. It is usually transmitted from person to person, but it can also be spread through the consumption of water and raw or under cooked food that have been contaminated with the feces of infected people.
Polio can be hard to detect as, most of the time, the persons affected by the disease don’t show any particular sign. In some cases, mild symptoms like a fever, fatigue, headaches, throat soreness, nausea, nasal congestion and cough appear. Stiffness in the neck and in the back or pain in the arms and in the legs can also occur. The victims of polio usually rapidly fully recover. But in rare cases, the infection can result in the permanent paralysis of the arms and the legs, or in a fatal brain infection.
WHAT IS THE RISK FOR TRAVELERS ?
Large scale outbreaks of polio used to occur in developed countries, notably in the United States. But the number of cases of polio has significantly decreased in the world in the past decades, since the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, aiming at controlling and eradicating the disease, has been launched. Nowadays, polio remains endemic in three countries : Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. Several other nations of Africa and Asia are also affected by the disease, but at a more medium scale. The travelers going to these countries are potentially at risk for polio.
What Are The Symptoms Of Polio?
There are various symptoms that may be caused by the Polio viral infection. Different classes of the disease exist, which causes specific symptoms. Some classes are less severe, while other classes may cause the patient to experience crippling complications that can cause them to suffer significantly in the long-term. One study found that around 75% of the children who are infected with the virus that causes Polio will be asymptomatic, which means they will not experience obvious symptoms that may point out the presence of the disease. The study also found that around 24% of children will experience mild symptoms. In approximately 1% of cases where a patient becomes infected with the virus, more serious symptoms may develop that can affect their central nervous system.
It may take up to two weeks for symptoms to develop after a person is exposed to the virus that causes this infectious disease. Not everyone will experience symptoms. The virus may be disposed from the person’s body before it can cause them to experience any particular symptoms.
Those who are not asymptomatic may develop the following symptoms:
- Muscle aches
- A stiff neck
- A stiff back
- A loss of appetite
What Complications Can Polio Cause?
Most people go on to recover from the Polio viral infection without ever experiencing symptoms, which means they do not even know that they have been exposed to the poliovirus. In approximately 1% of those people who are exposed to the Polio virus without being immunized, the virus can start to attack their central nervous system. When this happens, crippling complications may develop that can yield unpleasant long-term effects in the patient.
The disease can cause muscles to become extremely weak. This, in turn, can cause the infected patient to fall easily and to have problems keeping a balance while standing up and walking. These falls can cause fractures and may lead the patient to break their hip, as well as other crucial bones. The broken bones can then cause the patient to experience further complications.
It should be noted that, in modern times, Polio is unlikely to cause severe paralysis among patients that become exposed to the virus, even among those who do develop symptoms. The disease can, however, cause crippling symptoms to show up decades after the patient was initially infected with the virus. In such a case, the virus usually reactivates in the patient’s body.
How Is Polio Diagnosed?
Early diagnosis of the Polio disease is important as this can help a physician administer appropriate treatment solutions to the patient. In turn, this can help to avoid severe complications, such as crippling deformities and disabilities. It should, however, be noted that there is currently no known cure for the Polio virus. This is why immunization is so important for patients who may be at risk of developing the disease.
Several laboratory tests can be utilized to help identify the presence of the poliovirus in the body of a patient that is suspected to have been exposed to the virus. Testing may include the use of cultures, serology, genome sequencing, and intratypic differentiation. It may take up to 24 hours for some of these tests to provide an accurate result on whether or not the patient has been infected with the virus that causes Polio.
How Is Polio Treated?
No cure is available for the Polio virus, but there are vaccines available that can prevent a person from being infected with the disease. Even though no cure is available, a number of treatments are available for providing relief of the symptoms that a patient may be experiencing after they contract the viral infection. These treatment options may include pain relievers to help reduce pain symptoms in the patient. Some pain relievers may also help to reduce fever.
Individuals who experience respiratory symptoms may be provided with a portable ventilator to help them breathe. When muscle function is reduced, then physical therapy may also be provided to the patient to help ease discomfort and improve the strength of the affected muscles.
HOW TO PREVENT POLIO ?
The only effective protection against polio is the vaccination. If you intend to travel to a country at risk, consult a doctor before your departure and make sure that your vaccination against polio is up to date. Even if you have already been vaccinated, you may need a booster dose of polio vaccine. It is especially important that the children traveling with you are correctly vaccinated.
In addition to the vaccination, you must have good hygiene practices while traveling. Frequently wash your hands with clean water and soap, or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially before preparing food, eating or feeding children and after going to the bathroom. Avoid touching your eyes, your mouth and your nose without cleaning your hands first. When sneezing or coughing, cover your mouth and nose with a disposable tissue. Throw the tissue in a bin right after use. Avoid close contact with other people, especially with persons who are looking sick, and never share eating utensils or cups.
You should also follow basic food safety rules. Be always sure that the water and the food you consume are safe. Never eat raw, under cooked or suspicious food and always eat food while still hot. Preferably drink sealed bottled water.
IF YOU THINK THAT YOU MAY BE INFECTED :
If you feel sick after traveling in a country at risk and you think that you may be infected with polio, you must see a doctor as soon as possible. Inform him/her of the places you have visited and of your activities there. Remain isolated until complete recovery, to avoid the spread of the disease.
We make every effort to ensure that the information posted on our website is up to date and accurate according to the latest public health recommendations; however, it is impossible for us to make changes on a daily basis.
For the most current travel health recommendations, please call our clinic as make an appointment with one of our travel health professionals.