Worldwide Polio Spread Causing Concern

Polio virus an international emergency despite being a vaccine preventable disease

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Some diseases that have been largely eradicated in the US still present big threats on a global scale. This is the case for polio, health officials warned this week.

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced this week that the current spread of polio is now an international health risk requiring a coordinated, international effort in response.

WHO recommended an increase in surveillance and vaccination efforts in order to prevent further spread of the disease.

"Talk to your doctor about how to stay healthy before traveling."

The announcement came following an WHO Emergency Committee meeting involving representatives from several countries.

According to WHO, ten countries are currently considered as having active spread of polio within the past six months: Afghanistan, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Israel, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia and the Syrian Arab Republic.

Polio is highly infectious and can spread through contaminated food, water or contact with infected respiratory droplets or feces. According to WHO, many people who are infected display no symptoms but can still pass the virus along.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 24 percent of people infected with polio will have flu-like symptoms, including fever, vomiting and stiffness in the neck. In less than 1 percent of cases, permanent paralysis in the arms or legs can develop, and of paralyzed patients, around 5 to 10 percent die from paralysis of the respiratory muscles.

WHO reported that so far in 2014, during the time of year usually considered the low transmission season for the virus, cases of polio have already spread across international borders — from Pakistan into Afghanistan, from the Syrian Arab Republic into Iraq and from Cameroon into Equatorial Guinea.

"A coordinated international response is deemed essential to stop this international spread of wild poliovirus and to prevent new spread with the onset of the high transmission season in May/June 2014," said WHO.

"If unchecked, this situation could result in failure to eradicate globally one of the world’s most serious vaccine preventable diseases," WHO stressed.

According to CDC, there are two types of polio vaccine: the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV), which is given by injection and used in the US, and the oral polio vaccine (OPV), which is given by mouth and used in many other parts of the world.

In the US, children are routinely given four IPV doses — at the age of 2 months, 4 months, 6 to 18 months and 4 to 6 years.

CDC noted that most adults in the US do not need the vaccine because they were vaccinated as children, but travelers to areas with a high risk of polio should speak to their doctor.

WHO suggested that a variety of efforts must be taken in the face of polio's spread, including supplementary immunization campaigns, close surveillance of the virus and campaigns focusing on the routine immunization of children.

Review Date: 
May 6, 2014
Last Updated:
May 6, 2014