CDC Alert - Level 2, Practice Enhanced Precautions

Poliovirus Outbreaks Declared in Africa

Polio Travel Alerts issued for Angola, Benin, Central Africa, Ethiopia, and Mozambique by the CDC
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Africa (Vax Before Travel)

Outbreaks of the poliovirus have been reported in five (5) African countries by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

To notify travelers to Africa, the CDC issued Level 2 Travel Alerts on August 21, 2019, for the African counties of Angola, Benin, Central Africa, Ethiopia, and Mozambique.

These polio outbreaks are caused by vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV), a sign of low oral polio vaccine coverage.

These vaccine-derived polio outbreaks cannot spread in the United States because the US has high vaccination rates against polio and the oral polio vaccine is not used here, says the CDC.

The specific Level 2 Travel Alerts for these countries are as follows:

The CDC recommends that all travelers to these countries be fully vaccinated against polio, which is a crippling and potentially deadly disease that affects the nervous system. 

Additionally, the CDC says travelers going to countries with circulating VDPV who have completed their routine polio vaccine series, but who have not already received an adult booster dose, recommends administering a single lifetime inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) booster dose.

Even if you were vaccinated as a child or have been sick with polio before, you may need a booster dose to make sure you are protected. 

Furthermore, if you will be staying in these countries for more than 4 weeks, the government may require you to show proof of polio vaccination before you leave the country. 

To meet this requirement, you should get the polio vaccine between 4 weeks and 12 months before you leave the country. 

Most people with polio do not feel sick. And some people have only minor symptoms, such as fever, tiredness, nausea, headache, nasal congestion, sore throat, cough, stiffness in the neck and back, and pain in the arms and legs says the CDC.

In rare cases, polio infection causes permanent loss of muscle function. Polio can be fatal if the muscles used for breathing are paralyzed.

Because the poliovirus lives in the feces of an infected person, people infected with the disease can spread it to others when they do not wash their hands well after defecating. People can also be infected if they drink water or eat food contaminated with infected feces.

The CDC says 'good hand washing practices can help prevent the spread of polio.'

Polio in the USA

  • Polio has been eliminated from the United States thanks to widespread polio vaccinations. This means that there is no year-round transmission of poliovirus in the United States. 
  • Since 1979, no cases of polio have originated in the United States. 
  • However, the virus has been brought into the country by travelers with polio. The last time this happened was in 1993.  It takes only one traveler with polio to bring the disease into the United States.
  • The best way to keep the United States polio-free is to maintain high-immunity in the population against polio through vaccination.

What is vaccine-derived polio?

  • Polio caused by a vaccine strain is called vaccine-derived polio. 
  • The oral polio vaccine, which is made from a weakened strain of the poliovirus, is given as drops in the mouth to protect against polio. This vaccine has been extremely effective in wiping out polio in developing countries where most of the population gets vaccinated. 
  • In areas where there are low rates of vaccination against polio and sanitation is poor, the weakened vaccine virus can spread from person to person. Over time, as the virus spreads, it can regain its ability to cause disease in people who are not vaccinated. 

As of July 31, 2019, 11 countries had confirmed circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) outbreaks during 2019. 

Pre-trip, polio vaccine counseling appointments can be scheduled with a travel specialist at Vax-Before-Travel.

Polio vaccines, like any medicine, can have side effects. You are encouraged to report polio vaccine side effects to a healthcare provider or the CDC.

Article by
Dani Reiter