It’s hard to imagine a disease that you may think to be almost “extinct”
in developed countries could rise again. Especially when we have the means to seemingly prevent it from occurring. Unfortunately, those prevention measures aren’t always 100% effective, and the result can be the outbreak of a dangerous and deadly disease.
Such is the case in the last week with the Polio outbreak in China. This is the first outbreak in China since 1999, when a case of the disease was reportedly brought into the country from India. In the most recent cases, the World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed that the strain – known as WPV1 – was spread from Pakistan. Unfortunately, Pakistan is one of just a handful of countries where the disease remains endemic.
At least 10 cases have been confirmed in China’s western Xinjiang province, which borders Pakistan. Of those 10 cases, nine people were hospitalized and so far one has died.
And, although the country has quickly addressed the outbreak by launching a massive vaccination campaign, the WHO warns that the virus could spread beyond the affected areas – especially with Muslim pilgrimages to Mecca.
Helen Yu, of the WHO’s Beijing office warns, “Although other areas of China or other countries are not immediately at risk due to the geographic distance to the affected province, the polio virus can travel great distances and find susceptible populations, no matter where they live.” Adds Yu, “No matter how long a country has been polio-free, as long as a global polio eradication has not yet been achieved, the risk for importation remains, and constant vigilance is required.”
What is Polio?
Polio (also called poliomyelitis) is an extremely infectious disease
that affects the central nervous system. In its most severe form, polio causes paralysis, difficulty breathing, and in some cases, death. The virus spreads by direct person-to-person contact, by contact with infected mucus or phlegm from the nose or mouth, or by contact with infected feces – which can be transmitted through contaminated food and water.
Between 1840 and the 1950s, polio was a worldwide epidemic. However, since then, the prevalence of the disease has been greatly reduced due to the development of vaccines. In fact, experts consider polio to be “wiped out” in a number of countries.
However, as mentioned above, you can see how being “wiped out” can be a temporary thing. As diseases and infections today are always changing, it’s not impossible that a new, vaccine-resistant strain of polio could develop. Even in this age of “modern medicine,” all bets are off when it comes to disease, epidemics, and pandemics