First new polio case in decades diagnosed in Israel

Unvaccinated 4-year-old in Jerusalem tests positive for mutated version of disease; parents urged to get their children’s inoculations up-to-date

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Illustrative: A child receives the polio vaccine at the Health Ministry office in Beersheba on August 5, 2013. (Dudu Greenspan/Flash90)
Illustrative: A child receives the polio vaccine at the Health Ministry office in Beersheba on August 5, 2013. (Dudu Greenspan/Flash90)

A case of polio was discovered in Israel for the first time in several decades, the Health Ministry said Sunday, raising fears of an outbreak of the nearly eradicated disease.

A mutated form of the virus, which can cause illness in the unvaccinated, was discovered in a 4-year-old boy in Jerusalem, the ministry said. He had not been vaccinated against the disease.

The case was believed to be the first polio diagnosis in Israel since 1989, after Israel largely wiped out the disease through an aggressive inoculation campaign.

In 2013, traces of the virus were detected in sewer systems across Israel, but no human diagnoses were made. The discovery, however, pushed Israel to launch a mass vaccination drive among young children.

Like much of the world, Israel administers polio vaccines to children as part of its standard vaccine regimen, with four doses given between the ages of 2 months and around 7 years.

Following the diagnosis, the Health Ministry urged parents whose kids are behind on the vaccination schedule to immediately get them the necessary inoculations.

The Jerusalem Health Bureau has opened an epidemiological investigation into the case and will reach out to anyone who came in recent contact with the infected child, the ministry said.

The ministry noted that traces of the virus have been found in sewage samples in the area, something that has occurred in Israel from time to time but has not resulted in any clinical cases for several decades.

Polio spreads mostly from person to person or through contaminated water. It attacks the nervous system and can sometimes paralyze people within hours. The disease mostly affects children under five and has been largely wiped out in wealthy countries.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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