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  » Immunization Schedules  »  Poliomyelitis (polio)

Poliomyelitis (polio)

Following the introduction of polio vaccines there has been a dramatic decrease in polio infection. However, it is still important to have your child immunised against polio.

Children still need to be immunised against polio, even though cases do not occur here. Polio may cause mild symptoms or very severe illness. It is a gastrointestinal virus which causes fever, vomiting and muscle stiffness, and can affect the nerves and cause permanent crippling. Polio can paralyse the breathing and swallowing muscles, leading to death. About 5% of people hospitalised with polio die from it, and about half of those who survive suffer permanent paralysis.

Polio immunisation

Oral polio vaccine (OPV or Sabin) is given as drops by mouth. Several doses are needed to provide good protection. The vaccine contains small amounts of three types of live polio viruses which have been altered so they do not cause the disease, and a very small amount of an antibiotic (neomycin). The polio vaccine virus is present in faeces for approximately six weeks following immunisation with OPV. The contacts of a recently vaccinated baby need to ensure strict personal hygiene, particularly washing their hands after changing the baby's nappies. A child should not be given OPV if he or she has, or lives with someone who has, a disease such as leukaemia or HIV/AIDS or is on medication which causes lowered immunity. There is a small risk of illness caused by polio vaccine virus in these people. Inactivated polio vaccine (IPV or Salk), which is given by injection, is available for these people and those living with them.

Possible side effects of polio immunisation

A few people will have mild symptoms such as headache, muscle pains and mild diarrhoea after receiving OPV. Very rarely (about one in 2.5 million doses), OPV has been reported to cause paralysis in a person who is immunised or who has been in close contact with a recently immunised person.