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Polio spreads to northern Israel

Despite massive vaccination initiative, strains of the virus detected at a sewage plant in Baqa al-Gharbiya, near Netanya

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A medical clown makes faces as an Israeli boy receives polio vaccination, August 19, 2013. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
A medical clown makes faces as an Israeli boy receives polio vaccination, August 19, 2013. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Strains of the polio virus were detected for the first time at a sewage treatment plant in northern Israel on Tuesday, as the Health Ministry continued to push for the country-wide vaccination of children — a measure that has met with fear and objections from many parents.

The viral strains were found at a treatment plant in the predominantly Arab town of Baqa al-Gharbiya, near Netanya, the furthest north that the virus has been spotted, since it first appeared in a southern Bedouin community in May.

Tuesday’s discovery prompted the Health Ministry to renew its calls to vaccinate all of the country’s children, up to the age of nine. The third day of the massive initiative saw some 48,000 children given an oral polio vaccine that contains a weakened strain of the virus. Over 180,000 Israeli children have been vaccinated to date.

Authorities decided on using a live virus in the vaccine, in order to guarantee that the degraded, vaccinating strain spread quickly from the children to their surroundings, including family members and friends, thus vaccinating the general population.

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The use of a live virus, a method discontinued in 2005, has been controversial, despite Health Ministry warnings that the measure is necessary to stem wild strain polio virus from spreading across the country.

Health authorities believe the polio virus first arrived in Israel in February, crossing the border from Egypt to the southern Bedouin city of Rahat. It was first detected in Rahat’s sewage in late May.

The vaccination process in the south began in early August.

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