Polio scare gets parents rushing to immunize their kids

Health Ministry officials begin making calls and visiting homes to ensure all children under the age of six get inoculated

A resident of the southern Bedouin village of Rahat receives a polio immunization on June 4, 2013. (photo credit: Flash90)
A resident of the southern Bedouin village of Rahat receives a polio immunization on June 4, 2013. (photo credit: Flash90)

Reports on the discovery of the polio virus in southern sewage systems led thousands of concerned parents to rush to their local
health service providers Tuesday to immunize their children.

“We received a lot of calls and parents who were late in immunizing their children came to receive the medicine,” Tzvia Yarden an administrator of Beersheba child health services, told Israel Hayom.

In addition, health ministry officials began making calls and paying house visits to ensure that all Israeli children up to age six will receive vaccinations against the virulent disease.

The Health Ministry stressed that so far no cases of the disease have been discovered, but officials have ordered 220,000 additional units of medicine to augment the 400,000 existing ones.

Public Health Services head Dr. Itamar Grotto told Israel Radio on Tuesday that several thousand children in Israel are not vaccinated against polio, some because their parents refuse on ideological grounds, others because their parents either forgot or were unable to arrive at their appointment.

“We were shocked by the Health Ministry’s announcement that traces of polio were found in our sewage system,” Ar’ara Regional Council head David Bonnfeld told Maariv. “I instructed health and sanitation officials to prevent citizen access to our treatment facilities and report on any concerns of contraction.”

Kaeed Abu-Alkayan, a parent from the Bedouin village of Hura, near where the strains were discovered, said he and other parents were so worried they could not sleep at night. He said that running sewage in the street and a nearby dump were fertile breeding spots for any number of diseases.

Varda Edwards who directs the health and safety department of the Economics Ministry said anybody who has been exposed to sewage water and displayed symptoms including fever, headaches, fatigue, muscle pain, nausea and vomiting should immediatly visit a doctor

Last week, polio virus traces were discovered in the sewers of Kiryat Gat and Ashdod. The Health Ministry also reported traces in the southern town of Rahat.

According to a notification published at the beginning of June on the WHO’s Global Alert and Response webpage, the virus was found in a routine monitoring sample taken from sewage near the southern town of Rahat on April 9. Rahat has a population of 53,000.

There have been no cases of polio infection in Israel since 1988, although the virus was detected in environmental samples at other times between 1991 and 2002.

According to the WHO, routine immunization in Israel is estimated at 94 percent, and as a result, the risk for international spread of the disease from Israel was assessed as low to moderate.

Polio is an acute infectious viral disease that, in a small number of cases, can enter the nervous system and destroy motor neurons and weaken muscles. The ravages of polio, which was one of the most notorious childhood diseases until the 20th century, were countered by the introduction of vaccines in the 1960s.

The WHO classifies three countries as being endemic for indigenous spread of polio — Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. According to The New York Times, there were just 223 cases of polio worldwide in 2012.

Stuart Winer and Asher Zeiger contributed to this report.

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