Polio is making an alarming comeback and officials are concerned. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a public health emergency and is urging travelers to get the polio vaccine to protect themselves when going abroad.
Thanks to an ongoing effort for over a quarter of a century, polio had been virtually eradicated. Now the potential fatal virus is spreading quickly and is cause for alarm. In 1988, there were 350,00 cases of polio in 125 countries. By 2013, there were only 417 cases of it. But in the first few months of 2014, there have already been 74 cases reported worldwide, 59 of which were in Pakistan. 10 other countries have reported infections, including Afghanistan and Nigeria. Syria, which had been free from polio for 14 years is seeing cases of it again because it has spread from Pakistan.
On Monday, WHO made an announcement and declared polio a public health emergency. Polio is a preventable disease, which is why WHO is urging people to get the vaccine. Left untreated, however, the quick onset of the disease could spread like wildfire and undo all of the containment efforts that have been made thus far.
WHO’s assistant director general, Bruce Aylward, confirmed that conditions have been met in order to label the virus as an international matter when he delivered a speech in Geneva last week. The only other time WHO has made such a global decision was in 2009 regarding the swine flu.
Polio is spread through infected mucus and phlegm. Symptoms generally include flu-like symptoms with achiness, stiff muscles, headache, fever, sore throat and vomiting. The infection can last from three to 35 days. It becomes a clinical case when the polio virus enters the bloodstream. It then attacks the central nervous system and may result in paralysis. This has been known to occur in about one percent of all polio cases.
Children under six years old are at the greatest risk and are also urged to be vaccinated. One of the issues is that the areas when the virus is present are also areas of turmoil and gaining access to kids in these areas is difficult and puts health workers in danger.
There is no known cure for polio, but a live, oral polio vaccine (OPV) was created by Albert Sabin and is the standard vaccination used to prevent and lessen the symptoms of the viral disease. Other treatment efforts include the use of antibiotics and physical therapy.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) has a long-term strategy to eradicate polio by 2018. Their main goals are to develop stronger vaccines and to identify and treat new cases before they are able to spread to other countries.
The state minister of health in Pakistan, Saira Afzel Tarar, said the government will detail their efforts to control polio on Wednesday once the provincial officials have met. She did, however, mention having the vaccine available at airports. Meanwhile, WHO has declared polio as a public health emergency and recommends that travelers not only get the polio vaccine before traveling to these countries, but that they also carry the vaccination certificate for confirmation.
By Tracy Rose