Polio in Ontario: A guide to Polio immunization and the virus

It is small in number, but Ontario has had more pediatric cases of Polio — a rare and highly-contagious disease — than any other province. The new cases have been transmitted from the person to the child via oral Contact Immunization, also known as CIV. There is no current vaccine, so other things like oral rehydration, a standard treatment, are needed.

Each day, a flare up of Polio causes thousands of children in Canada to be admitted to hospital with fever and swelling of the stomach and intestines. Children often vomit, and their heads frequently swell, says Dr. Laura Stanley, a pediatrician with the University of Toronto and a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Hospital for Sick Children.

“The vaccine provides immunity and protection against developing infection but is only a protection for ten years,” she says. “Children are susceptible for life.”

To contain these outbreaks, Stanley recommends washing hands and practicing the three “Ds” of vaccination:

Divide the children into three groups based on their age.

Practice an inclusive method of immunization.

Devote time to working with infants and those who are less able to attend school, so they are less exposed.

The child in the group with the highest risk will be kept home for a minimum of two weeks. Those left behind can attend school on a rotating basis.

After that, the child in the second group may be home for up to a month, but Stanley says regular communication will be maintained with parents. Those who are at higher risk can continue to be home for longer periods of time until they feel fit to return to school.

For anyone, Stanley recommends starting preschool at age four and continued education until age 18.

“The immunization for Polio is in and out so that when the vaccine is taken, the immunity from the booster is lost,” Stanley says. “School is your best chance at time displacement to strengthen the immunity to help make you less likely to catch a Polio infection.”

It is recommended that the child’s kindergarten teacher meet with the student every day, and talk with the student and their parents about the vaccine for a minimum of six months after return to school. And all parents should be involved in these meetings so that they can make a plan to minimize the impact of Polio on the child and community.

When an outbreak occurs, school principals, school boards and health care providers often seek help from social workers, nurses, and volunteers to handle the illnesses, Stanley says.

“It’s amazing to watch how much help we can get from volunteers and donors who are willing to help,” she says. “We ask organizations to offer help in messages, and there’s no way we could manage it all ourselves.”

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