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Poliomyelitis

Introduction

Polio is an acute viral illness that occurs in the gastrointestinal tract. It is spread mainly through person to person (faecal-oral route) contact in areas where sanitation and personal hygiene are poor.

Since the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was introduced during 1988, the number of cases globally has reduced by 99%. Only humans carry the disease so if every individual in the world is fully immunised, polio can be eradicated.

Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are considered the countries with the highest risk of the disease. However, the disease can be spread to individuals in other countries who are not protected against the disease and outbreaks do occur.

The Illness

Polio virus spreads through the bloodstream to the central nervous system. Symptoms of the disease can range from fever and meningitis to paralysis. Polio is a very serious disease, causing lifelong paralysis of those affected.

Treatment

Treatment is mainly supportive in those with polio. Assisted breathing may be required for those who suffer from paralysis of the respiratory muscles.

Recommendations for travellers

Children normally receive polio vaccinations as part of the national schedule. Travellers should ensure that they have had a primary course of vaccine and receive a booster every 10 years if they are travelling to an area where diphtheria, tetanus or polio are considered high risk.

There may be additional requirements for travellers to endemic countries or countries reporting outbreaks (see individual country sheets for further information).

A combination vaccine called Revaxis is available to protect adults against diphtheria, tetanus and polio. 

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