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Polio in Ghana

Warning - Level 3, Avoid Nonessential Travel
Alert - Level 2, Practice Enhanced Precautions
Watch - Level 1, Practice Usual Precautions

Key points

  • There is a polio outbreak in Ghana.
  • CDC recommends that all travelers to Ghana be vaccinated fully against polio.
  • Before traveling to Ghana, adults who completed their routine polio vaccine series as children should receive a single, lifetime adult booster dose of polio vaccine.
  • The current outbreak in Ghana is caused by vaccine-derived poliovirus, a sign of low polio vaccine coverage in the country.

What is polio?

Polio is a crippling and potentially deadly disease that affects the nervous system. Good hand washing practices can help prevent the spread of this disease. Because the virus lives in the feces (poop) of an infected person, people infected with the disease can spread it to others when they do not wash their hands well after defecating (pooping). People can also be infected if they drink water or eat food contaminated with infected feces.

Most people with polio do not feel sick. Some people have only minor symptoms, such as fever, tiredness, nausea, headache, nasal congestion, sore throat, cough, stiffness in the neck and back, and pain in the arms and legs. In rare cases, polio infection causes permanent loss of muscle function (paralysis). Polio can be fatal if the muscles used for breathing are paralyzed or if there is an infection of the brain.

What is vaccine-derived polio?

The oral polio vaccine (made from a weakened strain of the poliovirus) is given as drops in the mouth to protect against polio. This vaccine has been extremely effective in wiping out polio in developing countries where most of the population gets vaccinated. In areas where there are low rates of vaccination against polio and sanitation is poor, the weakened vaccine virus can spread from person to person. Over time, as the virus spreads, it can regain its ability to cause disease in people who are not vaccinated. Polio caused by a vaccine strain is called vaccine-derived polio.

Vaccine-derived polio cannot spread in the United States because the US has high vaccination rates against polio and the oral polio vaccine is not used here.

What is the current situation?

An outbreak of polio has been reported in Ghana. This outbreak is caused by vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV), a sign of low oral polio vaccine coverage in the country.

What can travelers do to prevent polio?

Get the polio vaccine. CDC recommends that all travelers to Ghana be vaccinated fully against polio. In addition, adults who have already been fully vaccinated should receive an additional (single) lifetime booster dose of polio vaccine. Even if you were vaccinated as a child or have been sick with polio before, you may need a booster dose to make sure you are protected. See the Polio Vaccine Information Statement (VIS) for more information.

If you will be in Ghana for more than 4 weeks, the Ghanaian government may require you to show proof of polio vaccination before you leave the country. To meet this requirement, you should get the polio vaccine between 4 weeks and 12 months before you leave Ghana. Talk to your doctor about whether this requirement applies to you.

Clinician Information

For travelers going to countries with circulating VDPV who have completed their routine polio vaccine series but who have not already received an adult booster dose, CDC recommends administering a single lifetime inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) booster dose (more information).

Travelers who will be in Ghana for more than 4 weeks may need an additional booster if they received their most recent dose of polio vaccine (completion of routine series or adult booster) more than 12 months before their date of departure from Ghana.

See the Vaccine section in Chapter 4, PoliomyelitisCDC Yellow Book, for specific vaccination details.

Additional Information

Traveler Information

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