Polio may re-emerge in Europe

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Europe could be at risk from polio following a recent outbreak in Syria, infectious disease experts say.

The Lancet journal says “because only one in 200 people infected develops paralysis it could take a year of “silent transmission” before an outbreak is detected”, in that time hundreds of individuals could be carrying the infection.

Prof Martin Eichner, of the University of Tubingen and Stefan Brockmann, of Reutlingen Regional Public Health Office explain that most European countries use inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) rather than the live oral polio vaccine (OPV), because the latter can, in rare cases, lead to cases of acute flaccid paralysis, the main symptom of polio.

Dr Benjamin Neuman, a virologist at the University of Reading, said: “The Syrian outbreak puts Europe at risk because of the way we give vaccines. In parts of the world where it is still possible to catch a wild strain of poliovirus, children are usually vaccinated with a live but genetically weakened poliovirus which gives excellent protection but has a tiny risk of changing back to the more dangerous form”.

Most of the 22 cases of polio-like paralysis in Syria (10 of which have been confirmed as wild poliovirus type) are among children below the age of two who were unimmunised or who had not received all three doses of vaccine.

The World Health Organization warned last month there was a high risk of polio spreading internationally because of the movement of refugees across the region and low immunisation rates in Syria.

 

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