After Israel experienced its last case of polio in 1988 it continued environmental monitoring of the virus. Samples taken in Gaza and the West Bank have been consistently negative since 2002, but the virus has now surfaced in sewage in the south. An emergency response is under way.
The discovery of wild poliovirus type 1 in a sewage sample from Rahat in April prompted Israel to call in the World Health Organization (WHO). A WHO team arrived last week and reported that there is a moderate risk of the virus spreading internationally. The finding, coupled to concerns about the potential impact within Israel, has prompted a renewed vaccination campaign. Across Israel the vaccination rate against polio is 94%, but there are areas in which fewer are inoculated. The region where the virus was found is one such area, with Arutz Sheva reporting that 10% of residents may lack immunity.
A Health Ministry campaign is now under way to increase the vaccination rate and give a booster to children. While Israel normally inoculates kids with inactivated polio vaccine, it is considering reinstating the live attenuated oral version for the latest campaign. The Jerusalem Post reports that 150,000 children could be given a dose of live attenuated oral polio vaccine on top of the 5 jabs they routinely receive. Israel dropped use of the live attenuated vaccine in 2005. The live version is associated with more side effects, notably vaccine-associated paralytic poliomyelitis. Haaretz reports that Israel is looking to buy a weakened-virus vaccine considered safer than earlier versions. GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), Novartis ($NVS), Sanofi ($SNY) and the Serum Institute of India are all prequalified by WHO to supply oral polio vaccines.
The discovery of polio in Israel coincides with an outbreak 2,000 miles to the south on the Horn of Africa. WHO reports the strain found in Israel is a South Asian genotype, though, and has no association with the form currently spreading across Kenya and Somalia.