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Successful polio vaccination program

4 January 2019

A polio (poliomyelitis) vaccination campaign targeting Saibai, Boigu and Dauan islands in the northern Torres Strait has ended successfully.

Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service Director of Medical Services Northern Dr Marlow Coates said the campaign had achieved 75 per cent coverage of the target population in the area.

“We offered a catch-up vaccination for children and adolescents up to 20 years of age that hadn’t received a full primary course of polio vaccines, as well as a once-off booster dose for people over the age of 14,’’ Dr Coates said.

“It was a great response from the local community and I’d like to thank everyone for their support.’’

Dr Coates said the special polio vaccination program on Saibai, Boigu and Dauan had been run to coincide with a similar program run in the Western Province of Papua New Guinea.

“The risk of transmission from PNG is very low and there have been no cases of polio in the Torres and Cape region,’’ he said.

“But given the close contacts and regular travel between the three islands and the Western Province, we decided it was appropriate to implement a catch-up vaccination program.’’

Dr Coates said although the vaccination program had now ended, anyone in the target age group up to 20 could check their vaccination status and still be vaccinated by visiting their local island primary health care centre.

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus that affects the nervous system and may cause permanent paralysis of the muscles.

Australia was certified as polio-free by the World Health Organisation in 2000.

“However, until polio is eradicated from the rest of the world, it is still important to maintain high vaccination rates as there is an ongoing risk of unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated

travellers acquiring polio in countries where it is still present,’’ Dr Coates said.

“Polio can cause either mild or severe symptoms. It can cause paralysis ranging from minor muscle weakness to total paralysis but many people may have no symptoms at all.

“Other symptoms may include fever, headache, tummy soreness or upset and stiffness of muscles in the neck and back with or without paralysis.

“The disease is usually spread directly from person-to-person when faeces (kuma) from an infected person contaminates something which then goes into another person’s mouth.

“There is no cure for polio and immunisation is the only way to prevent the spread of the disease.

“You should also always wash your hands after changing a nappy or going to the toilet, before eating or preparing food, after playing in the yard or with animals, and after cleaning or gardening.’’

Last updated: 8 January 2019