Fresh cases of polio in Syria spark fears of global disease outbreak

Many people from Syria, who have fled West Asia to escape civil strife, may carry the disease to nations where they seek refuge

By Kundan Pandey
Published: Saturday 09 November 2013

Emergence of a few fresh cases of polio in Syria, after a gap of 14 years, has sparked fears of another polio outbreak in the world.

British medical journal The Lancet on Friday published an article and confirmed the outbreak of at least 10 cases has been reported in Syria while a few samples of wild-type poliovirus 1 (WPV1) have been isolated from sewage and faeces from asymptomatic carriers in Israel since February this year. World Health Organization (WHO) had confirmed this on October 29.

The medical journal expresses concern that tourists and travellers could bring the infection to other countries as well. The cases being reported at a time when hundreds of people from unrest-stricken Syria are moving to different parts of the world to seek refuge has multiplied the fear of global agencies.

European concerns

Re-emergence of polio is more frightening for European countries as most of them have abandoned oral polio vaccination, said the journal. “Oral polio vaccination provides high protection against acquisition and spreading of the infection,” the article said.

According to WHO, a cluster of 22 acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) cases were detected on October 17 in the Syrian Arab Republic. Among them wild-type poliovirus 1 (WPV1) has been isolated from 10 of the cases under investigation. Wild-type poliovirus had not been detected in the Syrian Arab Republic since 1999.

Most of the cases have emerged in the age group of 0 to 2 years and it is believed that the kids in that group had not been immunised properly. Estimated immunisation rates in the Syrian Arab Republic declined from 91 per cent in 2010 to 68 per cent in 2012.

During the Hajj in Saudi Arabia in October this year, authorities had ensured that visitors from regions once known to have people affected with polio cases were vaccinated. Syria, however, did not feature in that list.

WHO and UNICEF had announced that over 20 million children will be vaccinated in Syria and neighbouring countries against polio in ongoing campaign. This is the largest-ever consolidated immunisation drive in West Asia to stop a polio outbreak. UNICEF has already procured 1.35 billion doses of oral polio vaccine this year and will be pocuring up to 1.7 billion doses by end of the year to meet the increased demand.

Global supply of the vaccine was already limited despite vaccine-makers manufacturing the maximum they can. After detection of these cases, WHO, UNICEF and other manufacturers are working to secure sufficient quantities to reach all the children.

This region had not seen polio for nearly a decade but in the past 12 months, poliovirus has been detected in sewage samples from Egypt, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Polio emergence in Syria and Israel endangers Europe

Polio’s moving target

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