March 8, 2022 -- Israel has detected its first polio case since 1989 in a 4-year-old boy in Jerusalem, according to an announcement from the country’s Ministry of Health.

The child wasn’t vaccinated against polio as part of routine vaccinations that children receive in Israel, the ministry said. The source of the disease in this case is a mutated strain of polio virus that can cause illness in unvaccinated people.

“The most important means for preventing polio disease is to make sure that you follow routine vaccination protocols,” the ministry said. “Those who have yet to complete their routine vaccinations are urged to do so with all due haste.”

The 4-year-old child is in a state of weakness that could deteriorate to paralysis, a ministry official told Israel Hayom. Neither the child nor his family were vaccinated against polio, the official said, adding that the boy could be one of hundreds or thousands of children who may have been exposed to the mutant strain of polio.

“The population vaccinated against polio is protected,” the official said. “But this could be significant for the unvaccinated population, and the recommendation is to get vaccinated. It’s disturbing, mostly because this is a completely preventable disease.”

The Jerusalem District Health Bureau has launched a contact tracing investigation and will provide specific guidance to those who have been in close contact with the child. More recommendations will be issued based on the results of the investigation, the ministry said.

“It should be noted that the virus has been found in sewage water samples collected from the area, a finding that occurs occasionally, but so far there were no clinical cases in similar past incidents,” the ministry said.

In 2013, traces of the polio virus were detected in sewer systems across Israel, but no diagnoses were made, according to The Times of Israel. At the time, Israeli health officials launched a mass vaccination drive among children under age 9.

With the discovery of the latest case, the first polio vaccine dose should be moved up to 6 weeks after birth, and the second should be given at 12 weeks after birth, Sharon Alroy-Preis, MD, head of Israel’s Public Health Services, said during a news conference on Monday, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Polio is a highly contagious disease that spreads from person to person or through contaminated water. It attacks the nervous system and can cause paralysis. The disease typically affects children under age 5 and has been stamped out in most countries. There is no cure, but it can be prevented through vaccination.

The case in Jerusalem comes after an outbreak of the virus in Malawi in February, including a report of a 3-year-old girl who has been paralyzed. The strain was linked to a strain in Pakistan, where it is still endemic. It is also still endemic in Afghanistan.

Starting March 21, a nationwide vaccination campaign in Malawi will focus on nearly 3 million children under age 5, who will receive four doses of the oral polio vaccine.

“The resurgence of the wild poliovirus in Malawi, decades after it was last detected, is cause for serious concern,” Rudolf Schwenk, a UNICEF Malawi representative, said in a statement.

“Vaccination is the only way to protect the children of Malawi from this crippling disease, which is highly infectious,” he said.

Show Sources

Israeli Ministry of Health: “Polio (Pediatric Poliomyelitis) Virus Detected in an Unvaccinated 4-Year-Old in Jerusalem.”

Israel Hayom: “Israel reports first polio case since 1989.”

The Times of Israel: “First new polio case in decades diagnosed in Israel.”

The Jerusalem Post: “Israeli child tests positive for polio -- first case since 1989.”

UNICEF: “2.9 million children to be vaccinated against polio in Malawi.”

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