The Threat of Polio Abroad

According to the World Health Organization, the polio virus has been detected in sewage samples near Sau Paulo in Brazil. The virus was discovered in a sewage sample taken in March from Viracopos International Airport and is possibly related to a strain isolated in a case in Equatorial Guinea. While no human cases have been reported in Sau Paulo thus far, it is clear that, nearly sixty years after organized eradication efforts began, polio remains a threat.

Polio, a potentially fatal virus, attacks the nervous system and causes paralysis. There is no cure for the disease but it is preventable through immunization. Brazil has been polio free since 1989 and the entire Americas region since 1991. This is the main reason why the recent polio detection in Sau Paulo is so troubling.

Recently, the polio virus has attracted attention internationally after decades of declining rates due to the increase in reported cases in recent years. After the virus reemerged in Syria this past October, many nonprofit organizations combined to form the Polio Control Task Force. This year alone, they have vaccinated 1.4 million children, using thousands of volunteers and focusing mainly on accessible areas in northern Syria. The case in October was Syria’s first since 1999, but as a result of the volunteers’ continued humanitarian efforts there have been no new confirmed polio cases in Syria in the past five months.

During a recent span, UNICEF and its partners successfully vaccinated 25 million children in seven countries throughout the Middle East. However, their efforts are often thwarted by regional instability and the threat of violent extremism against volunteers. Over sixty polio workers and security personnel have been killed in Pakistan since 2012. Accessibility has also played a role in failed vaccination attempts, as many communities in war-ravaged Syria have proven unreachable by volunteers. Tribal communities in Nigeria have also posed challenges to vaccination efforts.

In 1988 polio was in 120 countries, and it killed an annual average of approximately 350,000. In 2013 only 416 cases were reported around the world. All were contained in three countries.

Contraction of polio in the United States has been at a virtual rate of zero since 1979. However, the CDC recently recommended booster shots to Americans traveling to 10 countries where polio may still be active. Among those countries were Pakistan, Cameroon, Syria, and Ethiopia. While it is clear that the threat of polio has abated in the western world, its presence abroad continues to trigger fear.

– Taylor Dow

Sources: ReutersWashington PostTimeNew YorkerNBC NewsNation
Photo: Utah’s People Post