Do adults need a polio booster if they were vaccinated as children?

People were shocked late last week when news broke that polio, a potentially debilitating and life-threatening disease, had been detected in New York. According to a joint press release from the New York State Department of Health and the Rockland County Health Department, an unvaccinated man in Rockland County contracted the virus from someone who received the vaccine. oral poliomyelitis (OPV). As a result, he developed an infection with what is called vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV).

Vaccine-derived poliovirus is different from wild poliovirus, which was the virus that caused widespread panic in the United States in the 1940s. Vaccine-derived poliovirus is a strain of the weakened poliovirus that was originally included in the oral polio vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

People immunized with the oral polio vaccine can excrete it in their stool or respiratory secretions (such as coughs and sneezes) and can infect others that way, the CDC says — and that’s what happens. happened in this case. This is why the United States stopped using the oral vaccine in 2000 and now uses the inactivated polio vaccine, which does not contain a live version of the virus.

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“Based on what we know about this case, and polio in general, the Department of Health strongly recommends that unvaccinated individuals be vaccinated or boosted with the FDA-approved IPV vaccine as soon as possible,” State Health Commissioner Mary T. Bassett, MD, MPH said in the news release. “The polio vaccine is safe and effective, protecting against this potentially debilitating disease, and it is part of the backbone of mandatory and routine childhood immunization recommended by health officials and public health agencies across the country. national scale.

It makes sense to get the polio shot if you didn’t get it as a child, but do adults need a polio booster? And do you need a polio booster if you’re traveling? Here’s what infectious disease experts have to say.

So, do you need a polio booster?

Let’s come back here for a moment: The poliomyelitis vaccine is part of the routine childhood vaccinations. The CDC recommends that children get four doses of the polio vaccine — at 2 months, 4 months, 6 to 18 months, and 4 to 6 years. If you had this as a child, you’re fully vaccinated against polio, says William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist and professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

That said, polio boosters are one thing. The CDC says adults who “are at increased risk of poliovirus exposure” and who have already completed their poliovirus vaccination series can receive a lifetime booster dose of the polio vaccine.

So who needs a booster shot? The CDC lists the following adults as potentially in need of a polio booster:

  • People who travel to a country where the risk of contracting poliomyelitis is higher.
  • People working in a laboratory and handling samples that may contain poliovirus.
  • Healthcare workers who treat patients who may have poliomyelitis or who are in close contact with someone who may be infected with poliovirus.

“Most people don’t need a polio booster because they were vaccinated against polio when they were very young,” says Dr. Schaffner. “In general, there’s no polio in the United States and no polio in most of the world, so people don’t need a reminder.”

Richard Watkins, MD, an infectious disease physician and professor of internal medicine at Northeast Ohio Medical University, agrees. For most people, “you get vaccinated as a kid and then that’s it,” he says.

But, if you’re traveling to an area of ​​the world where wild polio is still circulating, you might want to consider a polio booster, says Amesh A. Adalja, MD, principal investigator at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. It lists countries like Yemen, Israel, Palestinian areas, Ukraine, Pakistan and Afghanistan as those where polio is still circulating.

How to know if you are vaccinated against poliomyelitis

It’s probably been a minute since you received your childhood vaccines, and if you’re still not seeing the same doctor you went to as a child, you may not know if you were actually vaccinated against polio in your childhood. Still, Dr. Schaffner says the odds are very high that you’ll get your shots.

“You probably wouldn’t have been able to go to school if you weren’t up to date,” he says. “Most schools in the United States have a ‘no vaccines, no school’ policy when it comes to poliovirus.”

If you are unsure of your location, you can get a booster. “There is no danger in receiving an additional injection,” says Dr. Adalja. But, he adds, “most patients’ primary care physicians would have records for polio vaccinations.”

What is poliomyelitis again?

Poliomyelitis is a potentially disabling and life-threatening disease caused by the poliovirus, according to the CDC. In some cases, the virus can infect a person’s spinal cord and cause paralysis.

Polio epidemics in the United States in the late 1940s disabled more than 35,000 Americans each year, according to the CDC. However, the country has been polio-free since 1979 thanks to a successful vaccination campaign.

How is poliomyelitis spread?

Poliovirus spreads from person to person through contact with poop from an infected person or droplets from a cough or sneeze, the CDC says. Once a person is infected, they can spread the virus even before their symptoms appear.

What are the symptoms of polio?

Most people infected with poliovirus will not have noticeable symptoms, according to the CDC, but about 25% will develop flu-like symptoms. These may include:

  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • stomach pain

Less than 1% of people with poliovirus will develop serious complications that will impact the brain and spinal cord. These may include:

  • Paresthesia (tingling sensation in the legs)
  • Meningitis (an infection of the lining of the spinal cord and/or brain)
  • Paralysis (the inability to move parts of the body)

Again, Dr. Schaffner points out that the case of poliomyelitis in New York is rare. “This is a very unusual event and limited to a very conservative religious group where they are under-vaccinated,” he says. “There is no risk of spread to the general population.”

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