With the polio virus making a comeback in some parts of the world, many Canadians may be wondering how to protect themselves against the disease. According to Canada’s top doctor, getting vaccinated is the best and most effective way to go.
“When it comes to vaccine-preventable diseases, the polio vaccine is very effective,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s director of public health, during a virtual health update on Friday.
“The key is to catch up on vaccination… Vaccine coverage is pretty high for polio in Canada, but I don’t know what happened during the pandemic. I hope people catch up before they go to school or travel,” she added.
US officials reported in early August that an unvaccinated American in New York, in Rockland County north of the city, was diagnosed with the country’s first case of polio in nearly a decade.
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No other cases have been reported and the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is urging parents to have their children vaccinated against the potentially deadly disease.
That discovery came shortly after British health authorities reported finding evidence that the virus has spread in London, but no human cases have been reported so far.
The UK’s National Health Service says investigations into community transmission are ongoing and children aged one to nine in London have been eligible to receive booster doses of a polio vaccine from August 10. .
Although Health Canada has not recorded a case of the virus in more than 25 years, Dr. Tam explained during the health update that when it comes to vaccine-preventable diseases, the problem is under immunization, which can often lead to cases re-emerging.
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Poliovirus is highly contagious and usually causes no or mild symptoms, such as low-grade fever, malaise, nausea, diarrhea, and sore throat. The illnesses are most common in infants and young children, but adults who are not fully immunized can also get sick. The virus attacks the nervous system, with one to five percent of infections causing meningitis and less than one percent resulting in paralysis.
People who are not vaccinated or who are not fully vaccinated are at greatest risk of paralysis from polio.
Canada’s routine childhood immunization schedules include injectable polio vaccines before age two and a booster between ages four and six. The injectable form of the vaccine is inactivated and does not transmit the virus from person to person.
Canada could test sewage for polio ‘should the need arise’: Tam
Several experts on climate change and infectious diseases have agreed that a warming planet is likely to increase the risk of new viruses emerging.
In a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers reviewed the medical literature of established cases of disease and found that 218 of 375 known human infectious diseases, or 58 percent, appeared to be made worse by one of 10 types of weather extreme related to climate change.
These new and re-emerging infectious diseases include monkeypox, malaria, hantavirus, cholera, anthrax, and the Langya virus detected in China.
Tam also highlighted the possibility of increased emergence of viruses caused by climate change.
Emerging infectious diseases that are transmitted primarily from animals to humans are expected to increase due to climate change and global travel, Tam warned. However, vaccination can help counter transmission.
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“We need to prepare, do the research and not ignore them… Monkeypox as we know it has been knocking on our doors for quite some time and now it has found a way to enter the human population,” said Tam.
Monkeypox is transmitted primarily through prolonged close contact with an infected person, and the majority of reported cases in the current outbreak involve men who had intimate sexual contact with other men, according to the WHO.
Monkeypox infections have also been found in rodents and other wild animals, which can transmit the virus to humans, says the World Health Organization (WHO).
In Canada, as of August 19, 1,168 cases of monkeypox had been reported across the country, with Ontario leading with 571 infections, followed by Quebec with 453.
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To date, there have been 30 hospitalizations but no deaths in Canada.
“Vaccines have been researched and we have some of that, maybe not enough for the global need, but at least all the research has been done before,” Tam said.
As more infectious diseases emerge, he says global collaborations and more support are needed to look at the risks of virus resurgence that may lead to the next pandemic.
Plans afoot to monitor Canadian sewage for monkeypox, traces of polio: Tam
Meanwhile, plans are underway to filter Canadian wastewater to detect and measure new health threats like monkeypox and polio after the success this test has achieved in detecting COVID-19, according to Tam.
Experts at the National Microbiology Laboratory have discovered a promising approach to detect monkeypox in wastewater and will use the infrastructure developed during the pandemic to search for it, he added.
— with archives from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press
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