Are Israelis Still Immune to Polio? Blood Test Survey Will Decide

Health Ministry decides to conduct survey after traces of polio are found in sewer systems in Israel's south, though no actual cases of the disease have been reported.

Dan Even
Dan Even
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Dan Even
Dan Even

The Health Ministry will survey Israelis’ blood tests to measure their immunity to polio among different age groups in the adult population, the ministry said on Wednesday.

The decision was made after traces of the virus were found in sewer systems in the south. No actual cases of the disease have been reported.

Still, there has been a rise in the number of children being vaccinated against polio at the country’s well-baby clinics. According to the ministry, vaccinations over the past two days are up 8 percent at ministry-run clinics compared to the same two days last year. Ministry-run clinics constitute two-thirds of all well-baby clinics.

On Tuesday, around 2,500 children up to age 6 were brought to the clinics to make up the vaccines they did not receive as babies. All told, since the beginning of June, 26,000 people have been vaccinated against polio at the clinics, a rise of 10 percent over the same period last year.

In Be’er Sheva, 431 babies were vaccinated on Tuesday against polio, up 49 percent over June 18 of last year. In Rahat, where the virus was detected in the sewers two and a half weeks ago, a vaccination campaign over the past week that included adults has covered 98 percent of the population.

Polio vaccines in Israel are given in six doses: at 2, 4, 6 and 12 months, and in the second and eighth grades. According to Health Ministry data reported to the World Health Organization, 94 percent of Israelis have been vaccinated.

In the blood survey, the ministry will examine whether these six doses maintain immunity among adults or whether another shot might be necessary in accordance with the spread of the virus.

“The survey will be done within the database of the Center for Disease Control, which contains unidentified blood samples of Israelis that are sent by the health maintenance organizations and the hospitals, and which will enable an estimated survey that is representative of the Israeli population,” said Prof. Itamar Grotto, the ministry’s director for public health services.

According to the World Health Organization, only five countries in the world have active polio cases. Individual cases have been detected this year in Somalia and Kenya, while in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria the disease is considered endemic and spreads uncontrolled. In 1988, 125 countries were in that situation. The WHO has launched a program this year to eradicate polio entirely by 2018.

A delegation of WHO experts is expected to arrive in Israel on Sunday to assess the steps to stop the spread of the polio virus here.

As of now, the virus detected in sewers in the south − in Rahat and later in Be’er Sheva, Kiryat Gat, Ashdod, Tel Sheva, Arara and the Shoket junction − contained a strain similar to the one detected in December in Egypt. The virus is thought to have been brought to Israel by someone who became infected in Egypt and passed it on − to how many people it’s impossible to estimate.

The most recent polio outbreak in Israel occurred in 1988 when 15 people were stricken, 11 from the Hadera and Or Akiva areas.

Polio vaccine.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

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