NY Travel Clinic

Polio Prevention Guidelines for Travelers

Polio is caused by poliovirus 1, 2 or 3. It is a disease that is contagious in nature and can be prevented through vaccination. Most cases of polio occur because of contaminated food and water. The disease attacks the central nervous system by destroying nerve cells that activate muscles. This can result in paralysis and even death. A large majority of those affected by polio include children under the age of five but that does not mean others are immune to the disease. Travelers are especially at risk when going to countries where polio has not been eradicated or where polio cases still occur.

During the last few years, outbreaks of polio have occurred in several countries that were previously polio-free. That is exactly why the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommends a one-time booster dose with inactivated poliovirus vaccine for people who plan to travel. This vaccine is recommended for travelers that are traveling to countries with active poliovirus circulation. The vaccine is also recommended for those travelers who might be traveling to bordering countries but who are at risk of exposure to someone that may have imported the infection. These include healthcare workers or people working in refugee camps and other human aid settings.

The prevalence of polio has recently spread more than usual and that is why the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a temporary travel advice to those traveling to polio infected countries. A Public Health Emergency of International Concern on polio was declared.

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has also issued recommendations to those traveling to polio-exporting countries (including Pakistan, Cameroon and Syria) and polio-infected countries (including Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Iraq, Israel, Somalia and Nigeria). It is being advised that those travelers who have been fully vaccinated against polio should receive and additional dose of IPV if traveling to any of these ten countries. This dose should be given to the travel within 12 months of the date of travel. In addition, any individual that has lived in or stayed for more than four weeks in any of the polio infected countries and plans to travel out of that country is advised to receive an additional dose of the polio vaccine no later than four weeks before and within twelve months of their departure from that country. Finally, an individual that has stayed for more than four weeks in a polio infected country but has to travel urgently should receive does of the polio vaccine by the time he departs.

Overall, Polio is a disease that should not be taken lightly. Travelers need to make sure that if they plan to travel to any polio-infected country, they are properly vaccinated.