Friday, November 8, 2013
Polio is back.
The World Health Organization has spent 25 years trying to eradicate polio. In recent years, the disease’s presence had narrowed to just three countries — Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan — from more than 125 when the campaign began in 1988. The virus is highly infectious and mainly affects children younger than 5. Within hours, it can cause irreversible paralysis or even death if breathing muscles are immobilized. The only effective treatment is prevention, the World Health Organization says on its Web site, through multiple doses of a vaccine.
While the source of the Syrian polio strain remained unclear, public health experts said the jihadists who had entered Syria to fight the government of President Bashar al-Assad may have been carriers. Dr. Aylward said there were some indications that the strain had originated in Pakistan. He cited the recent discovery of the Pakistani strain in sewage in Egypt, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.
The strain has now been confirmed to have originated in Pakistan and it’s spreading.
Escalating its emergency battle to stop the spread of a polio revival in Syria, the World Health Organization has doubled the number of children it says should be urgently vaccinated to more than 20 million throughout the Middle East, the organization’s top official in charge of eradicating the highly contagious and crippling disease said Wednesday.
The official, Dr. Bruce Aylward, also said the organization’s projection of a two-month vaccination campaign — envisaged just a few weeks ago for 10 million Middle East children — would now take six to eight months, require at least 50 million doses of vaccine for repeated treatments and might require the diversion of vaccine originally intended to be used elsewhere.
The disease is difficult to contain because only 1 out of 200 people infected with the virus will experience any symptoms. The virus is passed in human waste. Unsanitary conditions in refugee camps are an ideal environment in which the virus can spread rapidly.
It only takes one person infected without symptoms who gets on a plane and travels to a destination somewhere on the planet . . .
Charlie Cooper, the Health Reporter for The Independent, reports today,
Writing in The Lancet, Professor Martin Eichner of the University of Tubingen in Germany and Stefan Brockmann, of Reutlingen Regional Public Health Office, warn that, because only one in 200 infected individuals are severely affected by the disease, there is a risk that unvaccinated refugees from Syria or travellers from neighbouring countries could introduce the virus “unrecognised”.
Countries in Europe with relatively poor vaccine coverage – including Austria, Ukraine and Bosnia Herzegovina – may be at particular risk of “sustained transmission” if the disease was carried into the region, they said.
At a meeting on Wednesday, the World Health Organization doubled the number of people who urgently need to be vaccinated to 20 million. An eight-month campaign will target children both within Syria and in Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Although the risk of infection at this time in the U.S. is probably pretty low and there is an urgent need for the vaccine in the Middle East that must take precedence, I recommend you contact your doctor or nearest public health office to get vaccinated, if you have not been vaccinated, and especially if your children have not been vaccinated.
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