You may have seen polio back in the news recently as the World Health Organisation (WHO) described the surge in cases as a cause for great concern and an “extraordinary event”. With polio on the up, countries around the world have been urged to consider the virus – which is endemic in Pakistan, Syria and Cameroon – a genuine threat.
As WHO Assistant Director General, Bruce Aylward, has stated, “The conditions for a public health emergency of international concern have been met.”
But what is polio and what does that mean for us in the UK?
What is polio?
Polio is a highly contagious virus that can affect people of any age, but is most commonly found to affect children under the age of 5. Polio is transmitted through personal contact with faeces and multiplies in the intestine causing symptoms such as vomiting, neck stiffness and a fever. Statistically, 99% of people only suffer these relatively mild symptoms, but where the virus makes it into the blood stream it can lead to severe nerve cell damage and eventual paralysis.
The fall and rise of polio
It is easy to forget how dangerous the disease was less than a lifetime ago. Poliomyelitis is an ancient disease, recorded in the earliest historical records, but it became an epidemic in Europe and America in the late Victorian era and again after World War Two. Before immunisation began in 1958 some 4,000 people suffered from polio in England and Wales.
Thanks to a concerted effort under the Polio Eradication Initiative, global cases of the disease dropped from 350,000 in 1988 to just 223 in 2012. But in 2013 and the first half of 2014 that figure has been on a sharp increase.
Recent increase in polio cases in Pakistan and Syria online slots have been attributed to the violence and unrest in the region. Conflict areas and refugee camps are particular hotbeds for the spread of the virus, while the constant struggle to get medication to war-torn areas has hindered attempts to carry out large scale immunisation plans.
These factors combined have led to the World Health Organisation’s call for an “international response”, which includes recommending that all citizens travelling outside the affected countries do so with certificates of immunisation.
Aylward went on to warn, “If unchecked, this situation could result in failure to eradicate globally one of the world’s most serious vaccine preventable diseases.”
Other countries considered to be of major concern to the WHO include Afghanistan, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Somalia and Nigeria.
How is polio treated?
The best treatment is prevention. Since the late 1950s children have been routinely vaccinated around the world in an attempt to eradicate the virus as part of routine immunisation worldwide. Initially vaccines were administered orally, though injections are now the standard method.
At Express Travel clinic we offer a simple Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio vaccine, administered by a qualified travel clinician. Our experienced staff are friendly and experienced in helping to put children and nervous patients at ease. And if you are a senior citizen, pregnant or long-term traveller, we can advise on the most appropriate medical care for you.
Book an appointment with Express Travel Clinic today – simply call 0208 993 5889 or check availability online.