Posted on October 31, 2015

On the occasion of World Polio Day and in a move to ensure Qatar remains free of poliomyelitis, Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) is encouraging parents to vaccinate children below the age of five against the crippling disease. Polio (poliomyelitis) is a highly infectious viral disease. It invades the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis in a matter of hours. Polio can strike at any age, but it mainly affects children under five years old.

According to the Supreme Council of Health’s baby immunization schedule, all children in Qatar, which is polio-free, are expected to be vaccinated against poliovirus at two, four, six and 18 months and between four to six years. “The polio vaccine protects children by preparing their bodies to fight the polio virus. Almost all children (99 children out of 100) who get all the recommended doses of the vaccine will be protected from polio. There are two types of vaccine that can prevent polio: inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) and oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV),” said HMC’s Senior Consultant in Pediatrics, Dr. Magda Ahmed Youssef.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), despite the progress achieved in polio eradication since 1988, as long as a single child remains infected with poliovirus, children in all countries are at risk of contracting the disease. The WHO says the poliovirus can easily be imported into a polio-free country and can spread rapidly amongst unimmunized populations. Failure to eradicate polio could result in as many as 200,000 new cases every year, within 10 years; this could spread all over the world.

The WHO also noted that one in 200 polio infections lead to irreversible paralysis. Among those paralyzed, five to ten percent die when their breathing muscles become immobilized. The health organization also noted that polio cases have decreased by over 99% since 1988, from an estimated 350 000 cases to 359 reported cases in 2014. The reduction is the result of the global effort to eradicate the disease. Today, only two countries (Afghanistan and Pakistan) remain polio-endemic, down from more than 125 in 1988.

“Poliovirus only infects humans. It is very contagious and spreads through person-to-person contact. The virus lives in an infected person’s throat and intestines. It enters the body through the mouth and spreads through contact with the feces of an infected person and, though less common, through droplets from a sneeze or cough,” explained Dr. Youssef. “You can get infected with poliovirus if you have feces on your hands and you touch your mouth. Also, you can get infected if you put objects such as toys in your mouth that are contaminated with feces.”

She stressed that an infected person may spread the virus to others immediately before symptoms appear and about one to two weeks later. “The virus can live in an infected person’s feces for many weeks. It can contaminate food and water in unsanitary conditions. People who don’t have symptoms can still pass the virus to others and make them sick.” Dr. Youssef explained that initial symptoms of polio include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the neck, and pain in the limbs. “In a small proportion of cases, the disease causes paralysis, which is often permanent. There is no cure for polio; it can only be prevented by immunization.”