Polio (poliomyelitis) is a highly infectious disease that mainly affects children under the age of five. Since 1988 there has been a global effort to eradicate polio and today only two countries remain polio- endemic. After smallpox, it is hoped polio will be the second infection eradicated worldwide. 1,2
Polio is caused by a virus that invades the nervous system. The virus enters via the mouth, but multiplies in the intestine. Fever, fatigue, vomiting and other flu-like symptoms are common, although some children experience no symptoms at all. In a small percentage of cases polio can cause paralysis, most often in the legs, which is irreversible. In a small number of cases death can occur after paralysis due to the breathing muscles being unable to function. 1,2
Polio is almost eradicated, but it remains endemic in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Polio transmission often occurs by eating contaminated food or drink, or by touching objects that are contaminated with the poliovirus.1
Although polio cases have not existed in Australia for many years, vaccination is still recommended as part of routine childhood immunisation. Four doses are required at two, four and six months of age, with a booster at four years.
You should also arrange with your doctor to get a booster if you:
• intend to travel to areas where polio is present
• are a health care worker where contact with people with polio is possible
• are likely to handle laboratory specimens that contain live poliovirus.3
There is no cure for polio and the long term effects are irreversible. Polio is eradicated in Australia, but if there is concern that a child has been in contact with an individual infected with polio, a General Practitioner (GP) should be consulted immediately.
A GP or a health care professional can advise Australians on polio vaccination or preventative requirements if travelling to a country where polio is still prevalent.