Poliomyelitis (polio) is highly contagious and infectious disease caused by the polio virus, which enters the body through the mouth and multiplies in the throat and intestines. The disease attacks the nervous system and can cause paralysis, which is almost permanent. In severe cases polio is fatal.
Polio infections can produce symptoms with varying degrees of severity. The majority of individuals have no symptoms at all. However, some people may experience a number of symptoms – fever, headaches, vomiting, constipation, stiffness in the neck and pains in the limbs.
Polio is most often contracted through either person to person contract, or by faecal-oral contact as a result of poor hand washing, from ingestion of contaminated food water and in environments where hygiene and sanitation are poor. Those infected with the virus can excrete the virus in their stools for several weeks and are most contagious 7 to 10 days before and after the onset of symptoms.
Certain groups of people will be at a greater risk than others, they include :- oversea travellers visiting the high-risk areas and infant and young children.
High Risk areas :- Indian subcontinent, Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and Angola
The disease is now rare in the Western and Northern Hemispheres owing to vaccination, but it remains common in some parts of the world.
Polio vaccination is usually given as a live oral vaccine, which is deposited directly on the tongue. Infants should be vaccinated with a series of doses at an early age, and then boosters given before starting and leaving school. People born before 1958 may not have been vaccinated as part of the childhood immunisation programme, therefore should check whether they require a complete polio vaccination programme as adults. Anyone considering travel to an area where the disease is common should consult their GP or Practice Nurse for Polio vaccination advice.
If you have never been vaccinated against polio, you can have your first dose at any time, followed by two more doses at four week intervals. Booster dose is not routinely necessary for adults, but is is advisable for those exposed to continuing risk – travellers to high risk areas and healthcare workers exposed to the polio virus – to have a single booster dose every 10 years. Check with your Practice Nurse who will advise you.