The Tennessee Department of Health, in alignment with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is issuing polio vaccination guidance for individuals planning travel to and from 10 countries where wild poliovirus, or WPV, is currently known to be a threat. Those countries include: Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Iraq, Israel, Somalia and Syria.
“Despite great effort and earlier progress made worldwide in reducing new cases of poliomyelitis, it has recently returned as a threat to public health,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “In the first half of this year, active transmission of poliovirus has occurred in 10 countries. What’s even more disturbing is information from the CDC that at least 40 countries previously deemed ‘polio-free’ have been affected by international travelers carrying the virus. To prevent a resurgence of this horrible disease here, we must more vigilant and take proper precautions.”
Before an effective polio vaccine was developed in the mid-1950s, polio was one of the world’s most frightening diseases. In 1952 alone, 3,145 Americans died from it and thousands more suffered crippling paralysis. Parents feared their children would contract the disease in swimming pools. They worried about their children and themselves being confined to wheelchairs or in heavy metal leg braces to walk, and placed in restrictive iron lungs to breathe. When an effective vaccine became available, many believed the disease was essentially eradicated.
Unfortunately, that is not true. Even though the largest public health initiative in history, involving numerous government and private sector partners, has attempted to eliminate polio worldwide, it remains a threat in several countries due to wars, civil disruptions, poverty and travel.
Tennesseans planning travel to one of the 10 countries with WPV circulation should talk with a health care provider who has expertise in travel medicine to ensure they have completed the recommended age-appropriate polio vaccine series and have received a booster dose, if necessary. Polio vaccine has been required for children to enter child care or school in Tennessee for many years, but adult travelers fully vaccinated as children may still need a booster dose before traveling to these high-risk areas.
“The injectable polio vaccine we use today is extremely safe and effective at protecting your health,” said Kelly Moore, MD, MPH, director of the Tennessee Immunization Program. “There are very few medical issues limiting an individual’s ability to be vaccinated for poliomyelitis. As always, the polio vaccine can be administered at the same time when other routine or travel vaccines are provided.”
Dr. Moore said those planning travel abroad to any of the 10 countries should consult with their health care provider as soon as possible to evaluate their vaccination needs since some may require more than one dose and may need time to get the vaccine series. Polio vaccine for children and adults is available through private provider offices and county health departments across Tennessee. Adults in need of a recommended booster dose in advance of travel have the option to call their local health department to schedule a polio vaccine booster.