13 June 2007

Get those polio drops

Polio remains a serious public health threat in the developing world. Even if your child has been immunised, it's a good idea to get a booster.

Medical experts say it's a good idea to get booster immunisation for polio this week (11-16 June), the second round of South Africa's National Mass Polio and Measles Campaign.

The first round of the campaign, which took place from 7-12 May, focused on both measles and polio, while the second round provides a polio booster.

The Department of Health states that the immunisation will provide children with additional protection against these life-threatening diseases, and will help prevent any wild polio and measles viruses from circulating among unprotected children. Children under 5 years of age are targeted because they are most vulnerable.

Immunising many kids at the same time
The aim of campaign is to give additional polio and measles immunisation to as many children under 5 years as possible, at the same time, to ultimately bring immunization coverage up to the required target of 90%.

As Prof. Wolfgang Preiser, Head of the Department of Virology at the University of Stellenbosch explains: "Basically the recommendations for such immunisation days is that yes, everyone should receive a dose, regardless of their status.

"The thinking behind that is as follows: firstly, there is often uncertainty about who received what and when, even if people are quite convinced and "certain"; and, secondly: one wants to "swamp" the place (including people's digestive tracts) with vaccine polio virus which will "squeeze out" wild polio virus by not leaving it anywhere to go."

The Department of Health urges parents and caregivers to take children to their nearest health facility this week for vaccination. For more information on immunisation venues and the campaign in general, please contact: Bhungani Mzolo 079 524 8432/ 083 589 4999 or Sibani Mngadi 082 772 0161.

10 facts on polio
Polio was an important disease well into the twentieth century until a vaccine was developed in the 1950s. However, polio remains a serious public health threat in the developing world. Here are some quick facts.

  • Polio, or poliomyelitis , is a viral infection with a wide range of signs and symptoms. These can range from a minor, flu-like illness, to weakness and paralysis of various muscle groups.

  • It spreads through the “faecal-oral” route. In an outbreak this means that infected faeces have contaminated the water supply.

  • The virus will most often cause minor illness with symptoms such as sore throat, slight fever, malaise, headache and vomiting, which develop three days after exposure to the virus.

  • It can cause major illness such as aseptic meningitis and spinal cord inflammation, resulting in paralysis.

  • The first sign of a major illness is often fever, followed by severe headache and a stiff neck. There may also be muscle and back pain or muscle spasms and increased sensitivity to pain.

  • There is no specific treatment for polio. The milder form of the illness is treated by relieving the symptoms with painkillers and anti-fever medication.

  • In the more serious form, weakness or paralysis require bed rest with painkillers and warm packs on affected muscles to relieve pain.

  • In most cases of polio without paralysis, recovery is complete. In cases of paralytic polio, however, many people are left with some degree of disability. Death occurs in a small percentage of cases.

  • Polio can be prevented: active immunisation is recommended for all children.

  • In South Africa, immunisation against polio is part of the normal vaccinaton schedule and periodically, booster doses are given to children and adults.

(Health24, June 2007)

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