Polio is a disease that most medical communities predicted would be completely eradicated by 2014. In fact, last year there were only about 400 cases worldwide. Unfortunately, due to poor vaccination policies, this virus is back in action with the World Health Organization recently declaring it “a public health emergency of international concern.”
Polio, also known as poliomyelitis, is a viral infection that causes spinal and neural damage that can lead to breathing problems, nerve damage, paralysis, and possibly death. This highly contagious disease is most commonly spread through hand-to-mouth contact from feces contaminated water or food.
Only about 5% of those infected will have severe symptoms, but the other 95% become carriers of the disease, which has no cure, but is completely preventable through vaccination.
Up until last year, the disease had been virtually wiped out with Pakistan, Cameroon, and Syria being the major exceptions. Unfortunately, the poor sanitation found in these war-torn countries, along with weak vaccination policies, has made them susceptible as a breeding ground for the virus.
Other countries, such as Afghanistan and China who are now getting instances of polio, have tracked them back to travelers who were not properly vaccinated. Children and the elderly, who are typically the most vulnerable of the population, are also the ones most affected by the recent polio outbreak.
Since much of the world was vaccinated when they were young, there is very little in the way of individual prevention now – since the polio vaccination does not require a booster later in life. Because of this, most healthy adults don’t need to take further action against polio if they will not be traveling internationally.
However, in an extreme action to reclaim 25 years of work against polio, WHO is now mandating that international travelers of all ages need to be vaccinated if they will be leaving the Middle East or Central Africa and carry proof of vaccination with them while out of the country. They also recommend that anyone going to these areas get a preemptive vaccination.
With worldwide prevention cooperation, polio can once again get back on track for full global eradication.