Alert over polio threat from abroad

  • Niall Hunter, Editor

Health authorities and the public are being urged to be on the alert in the wake of a threat of a polio spreading to Ireland from abroad.

The HSE's Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) has issued advice to prevent the spread of polio here, after wild-type polio virus (WPV1) was detected in Israel, a country frequented by many Europeans.

The HPSC has pointed out that the risk of further international spread of this polio virus from Israel to other countries is high.

In Israel at present, the health authorities have identified widespread transmission of the virus in the country, with both environmental and fecal samples testing positive for WPV1. To date, there have been no cases reported of the paralysis associated with polio, and it is believed that this is due to high polio vaccination rates in Israel.

However, Israel is currently monitoring the incidence of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) and meningitis so that any polio cases can be rapidly identified. In addition, the health authorities there are stepping up their polio vaccination campaign.

AFP is a paralysis that occurs suddenly and is the most common sign of acute polio.

Europe has been polio-free since 2002. The last case of polio in Ireland was recorded in 1984.

The HPSC has urged parents to ensure that their children's vaccinations, which include the polio vaccine, are up to date. Parents of children who have missed their recommended doses should contact their GP to get the missed vaccinations. 

All travellers to and from polio-affected countries are recommended to be fully vaccinted against polio. Fully vaccinated persons aged 10 years and over travelling to endemic countries should be given a single dose of the tetanus/diphtheria/whooping cough and polio four-in-one vaccine.

The HPSC says ensuring high immunisation rates here will protect the majority of children against the polio virus if it is imported to Ireland.

It is urging GPs and practice/public health nurses to identify children who may not be aged-appropriately vaccinated and offer vaccination.

The HPSC says polio-free European countries such as Ireland are being urged to investigate all AFP cases in children under 15 to outrule polio. The HSE recently issued guidance to doctors to be on the alert for cases of this type of paralysis.

It says doctors should be alert for possible signs of polio in over 14s if they have travelled to a polio-endemic country (including Israel).

The HPSC has told doctors that as part of the investigation of hospitalised meningitis cases in people recently returned from countries where the polio virus is prevalent, stools should be tested to outrule the polio virus as a cause of meningitis.

Find out more about polio here

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