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Is Polio a risk in Canada?

Is Polio a risk in Canada?
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Protect yourself from this highly contagious disease

The World Health Organization recently declared Africa free from wild polio, but there are still cases of the disease around the world. In Canada, polio has been eradicated for over 20 years because immunization against polio is part of the routine vaccination schedule.

What is polio?

Polio (poliomyelitis) is a highly infectious disease caused by the poliovirus that has a range of mild to severe symptoms. One in four people experience flu-like symptoms including sore throat, headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, and muscular and abdominal pains. However, for one in 200 people, the disease can cause paralysis as the virus spreads to the central nervous system.

Polio is more common in children under five years but anyone who is not vaccinated against the disease can be infected.

How is polio spread?

The virus spreads through person-to-person contact via respiratory droplets and through contaminated water and food. This means that the virus spreads more rapidly in areas with poor sanitation and infrastructure.

Am I at risk in Canada?

There has not been a case of polio in Canada for over 20 years. However, you are more at risk if you travel to a country with an active spread of wild polio or where there have been a number of recent cases. Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only two countries where the virus is endemic but there are cases elsewhere in the world. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative provides recent updates and a map of areas where the virus is prevalent.

What vaccines are available for polio?

The vaccine Rexavis protects against diphtheria, tetanus and polio. This is part of the normal vaccine schedule in Canada. If you have not been vaccinated but are travelling to a region where there are cases of polio, make an appointment with a travel health nurse six to eight weeks before you travel.

Do I need a polio booster?

If you are travelling to a country where polio is endemic, then you will need a booster, even if you were vaccinated as a child. However, the areas where cases occur change all the time so it is best to get advice from a travel health nurse. Even if you think you’ve left it too late to make a travel health appointment, come and see us. We can offer accelerated vaccination schedules for last-minute travellers.

What else can I do to protect myself from polio?

You can reduce your risk of infection through practising food hygiene and using safe water in areas where there is poor sanitation. For example, drinking bottled water and eating in reliable restaurants.

Personal hygiene is also a must as the virus can spread through respiratory droplets. Regularly washing your hands and using good sneezing and coughing etiquette will reduce your chance of being infected and transmitting the virus.

Where can I get travel vaccinations in Calgary?

If you need an appointment at a travel clinic in Canada, turn to Canadian Travel Clinics. It is quick and easy to book online.