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CDC: Americans Need Polio Vaccine Before Traveling to Netherlands

December 4, 1992

ATLANTA (AP) _ Americans should make sure they’ve been vaccinated for polio before traveling to the Netherlands, where at least 52 people have been stricken with the disease, U.S. health officials cautioned on Thursday.

″We do consider it serious,″ said Carrie Hartshorn, spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s immunization division.

The 52 cases include one death and 40 people who were paralyzed to varying degrees, according to new data from Dutch officials.

All the cases so far have been among religious groups that reject vaccinations, primarily the Dutch Reformed Church. Its members consider diseases acts of God and any artificial attempt to prevent them to be against God’s will.

It is the first outbreak in the Netherlands since 1978, when polio struck 80 people.

The risk to U.S. travelers probably is minimal, Hadler said. Most Americans and Dutch citizens have been vaccinated, the Netherlands has begun a major campaign to vaccinate any unprotected resident, and the country has excellent sanitary conditions, he said. Polio is spread through saliva and feces.

Still, the CDC wants travelers to be sure they’re vaccinated, and it recommends a booster shot for anyone planning to come into contact with church groups that reject vaccination.

Unvaccinated travelers apparently spread the polio virus to several people in Canada and the United States during the Netherlands’ last outbreak, Hadler said.

Travelers who haven’t been vaccinated, or who don’t know if they were, should be sure to get their shots early enough to develop immunity before they leave, Hadler said. The vaccine takes three doses, administered several weeks apart, so it could be 12 to 18 weeks before immunity develops.

The booster is only one shot and takes two weeks to develop immunity.

Most people infected with polio develop no symptoms or only mild ones, although the virus can lead to permanent paralysis or death.

The World Health Organization has set a goal of eradicating polio worldwide by the year 2000. There were no cases in the Western Hemisphere last year.

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