The New York State Department of Health issued a recent warning for travelers to Israel to ensure that they are fully immunized against polio. It came after Israel’s Health Ministry earlier confirmed four positive cases in children who came into contact with a girl who was infected in Tzfat in the Upper Galilee.

A boy is vaccinated against polio in the Neve Yaakov neighborhood of Jerusalem, Sept. 10, 2013. Photo courtesy ofYonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Recently, Channel 12 news cited a Health Ministry statistic to the effect that at least 175,000 Israeli children are not vaccinated against polio, described by the New York State Health Department as “a highly contagious, life-threatening disease that affects the nervous system and can cause muscle weakness, paralysis and even death.”

The five infected children are asymptomatic. Most unvaccinated children won’t develop symptoms and the majority who do fully recover. However, fewer than 1% will develop irreversible paralysis, and some who recover develop “post-polio” syndrome years later that can cause paralysis.

Polio spreads through fecal matter from person to person, so thorough handwashing is recommended and unvaccinated children should visit a local health center and get vaccinated against the disease.

In addition to Israel, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends taking precautions before visiting other countries with circulating polio, including the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia, Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire.

Israel has detected widespread polio contamination in wastewater and in February 2022, seven children tested positive for polio in Jerusalem, with six of them asymptomatic.

In 1988, the country experienced 16 cases of paralysis from the disease.