Traces of polio found near Jerusalem
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Traces of polio found near Jerusalem

Health Ministry urges parents to vaccinate unprotected children against deadly virus

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

President Shimon Peres (right), watches as a medical worker administers a dose of polio vaccine to a young boy at a clinic in Jerusalem, on Wednesday, August 21, 2013. (photo credit: Flash90)
President Shimon Peres (right), watches as a medical worker administers a dose of polio vaccine to a young boy at a clinic in Jerusalem, on Wednesday, August 21, 2013. (photo credit: Flash90)

Traces of the wild polio virus were detected in Jerusalem’s sewage system, the Health Ministry announced Monday.

The ministry recently launched a national vaccination campaign to prevent contagion after traces of the disease were found in southern Israel. Around 650,000 Israeli children have been administered the vaccine since mid-August.

According to the ministry, the evidence of the virus near the capital indicates “that we have not yet vanquished the virus and emphasizes the immediate need to complete vaccination against polio.”

The ministry has distributed letters to parents nationwide who have not yet vaccinated their children, urging them to ensure their kids receive the medication to prevent the transmission of the disease, Channel 2 reported.

Poliomyelitis is a highly contagious viral infection that attacks the nervous system and causes paralysis or death. Through the 1950s, the disease crippled as many as 35,000 Americans per year, but a public health campaign eliminated the disease in the US by 1979.

The American Centers for Disease Control notes that while “polio has no cure, vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and the only way to stop the disease from spreading.”

In late August, a wild polio virus — which has spread across the country this year — was identified in sewage samples taken in the southern Galilee. According to the Health Ministry, the sample was taken before the launch on August 18 of a nationwide vaccination effort against the virus.

Last month, the High Court of Justice rejected a petition to stop the vaccinations. The petition claimed that, among other things, the proposed solution could be more dangerous than the problem itself.

Yaakov Gurman, director of the Izun Hozer organization, which filed the petition, told The Times of Israel that the risks inherent in the few samples of the wild strain polio virus discovered in several places in Israel could be multiplied many times over once a million kids are given the oral polio vaccine (OPV) — essentially a weakened form of polio which, like most inoculations, introduces the virus and lets the body build up a resistance by developing the antibodies needed to battle a full-on invasion of polio.

New York pediatrician and author Dr. Stuart Ditchek disagreed. “The benefits of using OPV by far outweigh the risks in this scenario, thus the recommendation,” he said.

“The recommendation being implemented in Israel is smart and guided by advisement of the [US] Centers for Disease Control. The group in the lawsuit simply disregards the CDC as an honest adviser,” and thereby risks the public’s health, he said. “There is no documentation scientifically of their concerns.”

David Shamah contributed to this report. 

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