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Polio (poliomyelitis) is a serious illness caused by the polio virus. The virus first infects the gut, but then travels to the nervous system and can cause a meningitis-like illness. This may leave permanent damage to some nerves. This can lead to wasting of some muscles and can sometimes cause paralysis of the arms or legs. The illness can seriously affect breathing in some people and may even lead to death. In 1955, before the introduction of polio immunisation, there were nearly 4,000 reported cases of polio in England and Wales. Polio is now very rare in the UK because of the success of immunisation.

Polio Vaccine

The vaccine stimulates your body to make antibodies against the polio virus. These antibodies protect you from illness should you become infected with this virus. The vaccine is safe to give if you are pregnant or breast feeding. Before 2004, the polio vaccine was given as drops into the mouth. It is now always given as an injection. If you have previously started a course of polio immunisation with oral vaccine you can finish off the course with polio injections. You do not need to start again.

Polio is almost eradicated from much of the world due to immunisation. However, it is still a problem in some regions, particularly Nigeria, Pakistan and India. Your GP or practice nurse can advise if your travel destination is an 'at risk' area for polio. If you are travelling to an 'at risk' area:

  • Many people will already be be fully immunised from their routine childhood immunisations and do not need a booster.

  • If you have not had a booster within the last 10 years, you may be advised to have a booster dose of vaccine if you travel to certain countries. This is particularly important for health workers who intend to work in 'at risk' areas. If you are not immunised, you should be immunised before you travel.

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