Polio Virus Spreading Across Israel via Sewer Systems

Still, no polio sufferers have been found, says Health Ministry, stressing that the virus has been located in sewer systems only.

Dan Even
Dan Even
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Dan Even
Dan Even

The polio virus has continued to spread through sewer systems across Israel, based on widespread sample surveys of sewer systems recently ordered by the Health Ministry.

Still, no polio sufferers have been found, the Health Ministry said, stressing that the virus has been located in sewer systems only.

The survey found the virus in the Ayalon sewer system that handles sewage from the cities of Ramle, Lod and Modi'in and the communities located in the Gezer Regional Council; in the sewer system that handles sewage from the Lev Hasharon Regional Council, including the community of Kalansua; and in the sewage treatment plant that serves the communities of Jaljulia and Kafr Bara. The discovery of the polio virus in these sewer systems follows the virus' discovery at sewage treatment plants serving Negev communities. The virus was first discovered in May in sewage from the Negev city of Rahat.

All the polio viruses found recently have a similar genetic structure to the strain of the virus found in December 2012 in Egypt, according to the director of Public Health Services in the Health Ministry, Prof. Itamar Grotto. According to Grotto, it is believed that the virus was brought to Israel by a carrier who was infected in Egypt, and has already been transmitted to additional people, although it is impossible to estimate the number of infected.

"It can be assumed that the virus has spread and infected people in the center of the country and the Sharon region," said Grotto. However, he added, it could not be ruled out that the virus was brought to the center of the country by people living in the south who work in the center.

The survey samples from sewer systems across the country have yet to find any polio viruses in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem, Ashkelon or Eilat, or in the sewer systems of the central Dan region or of the north.

In recent days, the Health Ministry has increased preparations for a vaccination campaign that will provide an additional polio vaccine to children up to the age of eight across the south. Currently children are vaccinated with an injection of a dead polio virus at ages two months, four months, six months and one year, and then in the second grade of school.

The new campaign would administer an additional polio vaccine that contains a weakened live virus in drop form to children up to age eight. Grotto said the final decision to carry out the vaccination campaign will be made based on the results of a fecal sample survey being conducted now by the Health Ministry in Negev communities.

World Health Organization figures show that the polio virus is considered active in only five countries today. In Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria the virus is considered to be "endemic"; in 1988, this description fit 125 countries. Isolated numbers of polio sufferers have also been found, according to the WHO, in Somalia and Kenya since the beginning of this year.

Israel is likely to join these two countries should any individuals be diagnosed with polio. The WHO has a goal of eradicating polio worldwide by 2018.

To reduce the risk of contracting polio, the Health Ministry instructs individuals to be meticulous about personal hygiene, particularly washing hands after using the bathroom, before touching food and after changing infants' diapers. The ministry also called for parents to be meticulous about keeping up-to-date with routine vaccinations for their children up to age six at well-baby centers across the country.

The sewage treatment plant near Beit She’an Credit: Abdullah Shama

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