The World Health Organisation recently declared the international spread of poliovirus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), naming Pakistan, Cameroon, Syria, Afghanistan, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Somalia, and Nigeria as sources of transmission. This declaration is in the context of the potential to globally eradicate one of the world’s most serious vaccine preventable diseases.

An Australian recently returned from Somalia, having contracted poliomyelitis (polio), which may cause meningitis and paralysis, although 90% of cases show no symptoms. Of those people who are hospitalised, around 5% will die and approximately half of the survivors will sustain permanent paralysis. Anyone with acute flaccid paralysis should be considered a potential polio case.

Healthcare workers who plan to spend more than four weeks in these countries should supplement their immunisation with a booster dose, and repeat every ten years if there is a possibility of contact with any cases.

Most healthcare service providers in Australia promote staff vaccination against influenza and hepatitis B. However, providers may be forgiven for assuming that workers have completed an equivalent to the Immunise Australia Program of vaccination for polio at two, four and six months of age, with a booster dose at four years. With close to 28% of Australia’s 23.5 million people being born overseas, these assumptions about immunisation status may be ill-founded.

This timely reminder could trigger a review of risk management, occupational safety, and staff induction practices related to minimising the impact of all sixteen diseases addressed by the Immunise Australia Program.

References:

  1. Australia Bureau of Statistics. Australia’s population by country of birth. In: Migration, Australia, 2011-12 and 2012-13 (cat 3412.0). Canberra: Australia Bureau of Statistics; 2014.
  2. Australia Bureau of Statistics. Population Clock. Canberra: Australia Bureau of Statistics.
  3. Australian Government Department of Health. Immunise Australia Program. Canberra, Australia.
  4. World Health Organisation (WHO). WHO statement on the meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee concerning the international spread of wild poliovirus. Geneva: WHO; 2014.