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Travelers Headed to 10 Countries in Africa, Middle East Urged to Get Polio Vaccine Booster

Countries on the list include: Afghanistan, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, and Syria.
LITTLE ROCK, AR (News release) - The Arkansas Department of Health cautions people and groups traveling to Afghanistan, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, and Syria. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the international spread of wild poliovirus (WPV), also known as polio, a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. As a result of that declaration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued new polio vaccine recommendations for travelers to these countries. 

The United States has been polio-free since 1979; however, there are countries in the world where the virus is still a serious problem. Those traveling to these countries for business, pleasure or a mission trip should make sure they review the new guidelines to protect their health.  

The CDC now recommends an adult inactivated poliovirus (IPV) booster dose for travelers to the 10 countries listed above. Countries are considered to have active WPV circulation if they have ongoing endemic circulation, active polio outbreaks, or environmental evidence of active WPV circulation. Travelers working in health care settings, refugee camps, or other humanitarian aid settings in these countries may be at particular risk.

Polio is a crippling and potentially fatal infectious disease. There is no cure, but there are safe and effective vaccines. Therefore, the strategy to eradicate polio is based on preventing infection by immunizing every child to stop transmission and ultimately make the world polio free. These polio eradication efforts had been successful and the number of countries where travelers are at risk for polio had decreased dramatically. This new warning reminds us the status of deadly disease can change rapidly and to stay vigilant.   

“There are 10 countries that have active transmission of wild poliovirus that could easily spread to other countries through international travel,” Dr. Dirk Haselow, State Epidemiologist at the Arkansas Department of Health said. “As we say with many other highly infectious diseases, the polio virus is simply a plane ride away, so we want travelers to these areas to take this virus seriously.” 

Anyone staying in any of the polio-affected countries for more than four (4) weeks may be required to have a polio booster shot within the 4 weeks to twelve months prior to departure from that country. This booster should be documented in the yellow International Certificate of Vaccination in order to avoid delays in transit or forced vaccination in country. Either oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV) or inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) may be used for this booster, however only IPV is currently available in the United States.

Before the polio vaccine was available for use, infection with poliovirus was common worldwide, with seasonal peaks and epidemics in the summer and fall. New cases of polio in the United States declined rapidly after the IPV became available in 1955 and the live OPV in the 1960s. The last cases of polio acquired in the United States occurred in 1979. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative subsequently eliminated polio in the Americas, where the last wild poliovirus–associated polio case was detected in 1991. 

Click here for more information for those traveling to polio-affected areas who may need to receive polio vaccination or a booster polio vaccination prior to travel.

ADH designates the doctors and pharmacies that offer vaccines for travelers as International Travel Immunization Centers, and keeps a list of those centers. Click here to visit the Immunizations for Travelers section of the ADH website for that list.

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