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What Is Polio?
Polio, short for Poliomyelitis, is a contagious disease spread in humans through contaminated food and water. The Polio virus targets the central nervous system, and can cause rapidly induced paralysis and in some occasions, death. Travellers risk contraction if they are spending a long period of time in the handful of countries where Polio remains an endemic. While the virus is mostly spread through poor personal hygiene or sanitation conditions, the virus can also be transmitted through close personal contact, such as a sneeze or cough.
The symptoms of Polio take from three to 35 days to appear, however most people will experience no indicators of the virus. Mild symptoms include fever, fatigue, sore throat, stiffness of the neck and muscles, nausea, and vomiting.
What is the Polio Vaccine?
Polio has been eradicated in Canada for two decades as a result of vaccination. The Polio vaccine is part of the routine vaccination schedule for all children in Canada, and is often given alongside other vaccinations, such as those for Tetanus and Diphtheria. More information about routine vaccination for Canadian children can be found on the Government of Canada website.
Even if you received the full Polio vaccination series as a child, the Public Health Agency of Canada recommends receiving a one-time booster dose before travel. The vaccination is recommended for all travellers visiting countries where Polio has not yet been eliminated or neighbouring countries that are at potential risk. The Polio vaccination series for unimmunized adults involves two injections given four to eight weeks apart, followed by a third dose six to 12 months after the second dose.
A complete series of the Polio vaccine provides almost 100% efficacy against the virus.
Do I Need to Look Out for Polio?
Polio remains an endemic in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Temporary vaccination recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) remain in effect for these two countries in order to prevent further spread of the virus.
In October 2015, WHO updated its temporary vaccination recommendations based on Polio case data for the year. In doing so, it removed the vaccination recommendations for travellers visiting Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Nigeria, Somalia, and Syria. While there were no new cases of the wild Polio virus in those countries in 2015, they remain at risk for transmission of the disease.
It is recommended that all Canadian travellers check their immunization record for the Polio vaccine. If you think you may require a full series of shots or a one-time booster, contact your Passport Health travel medicine clinic.