What is Polio?
• Polio is a life-threatening infection that affects the brain and spinal cord.
• The poliovirus is transmitted by person-to-person spread mainly through the faecal-oral route and is caused by poor hand hygiene or contaminated water and food. Polio can also be spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes droplets into the air.
• 1 in 200 infections cause paralysis.
• 1 in 2000 infections cause death.
• There is no cure for polio. It spreads easily and before the first polio vaccine, frequent epidemics saw polio become the most feared disease in the world.
There is no cure for polio. The only treatment is prevention. Protect yourself and your family against polio through safe and effective immunisation.
Which countries are affected by polio?
• Polio existed and caused paralysis and death for much of human history. Major epidemics of polio started during the 20th century in European cities and soon spread to cause epidemics in the rest of the world.
• After a polio vaccine was made available in 1954 and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) was launched in 1988, great success was achieved.
1979 – Wild poliovirus eradicated in US
1988 – 35 251 cases of wild poliovirus still reported around the world
1991 – Wild poliovirus eradicated in the Western Hemisphere
2006 – Wild poliovirus eradicated in South Africa
2020 – Wild poliovirus declared to be eradicated from the African Continent
In 2020, there were still three countries where the wild poliovirus had not yet been eradicated.
Why be concerned?
• Today, countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan remain infected with wild poliovirus. Cases can easily spread to countries where there is poor immunisation coverage.
• Just one case of polio can result in as many as 200 000 new cases in a year, if people are not fully immunised.
• Today, wild poliovirus is reemerging in several countries around the world.
In 2020, new cases of wild poliovirus were found in New York, London, Malawi and Mozambique.
Who is at risk?
• Polio can strike at any age, but mainly affects children under 5 years old.
Every person that has not been fully immunised, whether young or old, is at risk.
How do I protect myself and my family?
• All Children
– Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV) Injections at the ages of 6 weeks, 10 weeks, 14 weeks and 18 months.
– Where the Live Oral Polio Vaccine is available, it is given at birth and at 6 weeks.
• Children younger than 4 years that missed some of the IPV injections or where there is uncertainty of the immunisation status.
– 3 IPV injections 4 weeks apart and the last IPV at 6 months thereafter to complete the 4 required IPV injections.
• Adults and children older than 4 years who received no previous polio immunisation or where there is uncertainty of the immunisation status.
– IPV 3 doses; first dose at any time, second dose 1 month later, third dose 6 months later.
Live Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) protects against contracting and spreading polio. Because it is a live virus vaccine, it rarely causes Vaccine Derived Polio Paralysis in people that did not receive the IPV injection. Countries where wild poliovirus is eradicated are now moving away from using OPV and are using only the IPV injection.
Getting the full schedule of the IPV injections is effective in protecting against polio.
Written by Paediatrician, Dr. Riaan Louw