Polio is a viral infection that has not been seen in the UK since the mid-80s. However, polio is still a significant problem in Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. There is also a risk of infection in some Middle Eastern countries and other parts of Africa.
Polio can spread through coughing and sneezing of an infected person. Also, coming into contact with the faeces of an infected person or food and water that has been contaminated with infected faeces can enable the disease to spread. Therefore, it is important to follow good hygiene practices.
If the virus gets into your mouth, it begins to multiply once it reaches your throat and bowels. In cases where the virus reaches the bloodstream, it can spread to the nerves.
Many people will combat the infection without realising they have contracted the virus as most people will not show any symptoms.
However, a small number of people will experience flu-like symptoms that appear between 3-21 days after infection and will usually dissipate within a week.
Symptoms can include:
- a headache
- a sore throat
- tummy pain
- muscle aches
- a high temperature (38C or above)
In rare circumstances, the polio virus can affect the nerves in the spine and base of the brain, which can cause paralysis. The paralysis is not usually permanent but occasionally long-term issues can occur. If the muscles that control breathing are affected, the polio virus can be fatal.
There is currently no cure for polio. Therefore, treatment is often focused on supporting the functionality of the body and reducing the risk of long-term issues. This may include:
- hospital bed rest
- stretches that exercise the joints and muscles
- breathing support
Prevention and Vaccination
The poliovirus used to be widespread within the UK, but due to vaccination, it has essentially been eliminated. There is also no longer any risk of contracting the virus through vaccination as it now contains an inactive version of the virus.
The poliovirus vaccination is included in the NHS childhood vaccination schedule. However, if you have not been completely vaccinated and are planning on travelling to a country where polio is widespread, vaccination is highly recommended. Additionally, if you are planning to travel and you have not been vaccinated for 10 years or more, you should have a booster dose administered. This should take place ideally two weeks before departure, but can be given up to a day before.
In early 2014, there was a worldwide increase in cases of polio. As a result, the WHO (World Health Organization) extended further travel recommendations for travellers visiting high-risk countries. As of July 2018, these recommendations are still in place. If you have not had a booster in the past 12 months, you may be advised to get one depending on where you will be travelling, what you will be doing and how long you will be staying. Proof of vaccination may be required in high-risk countries before you will be permitted to travel further.
During your consultation, Ahmeys travel health practitioners will undertake a travel risk assessment based on your itinerary and travel plans. Our expert practitioners are also well placed to discuss and assess the risks versus the benefits of vaccination of those who are pregnant or who suffer from certain allergies. Our aim is for you to leave your consultation feeling confident and fully informed.