Everybody, everywhere, is still at risk of polio.
As long as these three final strongholds of polio remain:
According to the WHO, failure to eradicate polio from these last remaining strongholds could result in as many as 200,000 new cases every year, within 10 years, all over the world.
What is more alarming is that cases have been on the rise in these last three strongholds. According to the WHO, between 2010 and 2011, cases in Afghanistan increased by 220%, in Nigeria by 185% and by 37% in Pakistan, which was responsible for a third of all cases in the world.
However, polio can still travel out of these strongholds and cause outbreaks overseas countries. For instance, China had its first outbreak of polio for the first time in more than 10 years in 2011. The virus spread to Xinjiang province from bordering Pakistan.
Another modern polio outbreak originated from Nigeria and affected 24 countries in west and central Africa. In addition, there have been outbreaks in Tajikistan as well.
We are still not free from polio, not when it remains rampant in the last three countries.
If we do not heed the lessons from history and the disease itself, we will not be ready when polio strikes our nation.
Moreover, with the growing trend of vaccine refusals, parents may be refusing to allow their children to receive their polio vaccination.
This poses a risk not only for their children but also for communities and our nation, as these unvaccinated children are highly susceptible to polio infection. They may become sources for polio to re-infect our population.
We must remain steadfast in our commitment to vaccinate all our children against polio. The only way to stop polio is to vaccinate a very high percentage of the population, leaving no reservoirs of susceptible people where the virus can survive.
Post Polio Syndrome
Post-polio syndrome (PPS) is a condition that affects polio survivors years after recovery from an initial acute attack of the poliovirus. These survivors may experience gradual new weakening in muscles that were previously affected by the polio infection. The most common symptoms include slowly progressive muscle weakness, fatigue, and a gradual decrease in the size of muscles (muscle atrophy). Pain from joint degeneration and increasing skeletal deformities such as scoliosis (curvature of the spine) is common and may precede the weakness and muscle atrophy. Some individuals experience only minor symptoms while others develop severe muscle weakness and atrophy.
Post-polio syndrome is rarely life-threatening, but the symptoms can be significantly detrimental to an individual’s ability to function independently. Respiratory muscle weakness, for instance, can result in trouble with proper breathing, affecting daytime functions and sleep. Weakness in swallowing muscles can result in aspiration of food and liquids into the lungs and lead to pneumonia.
At the moment, there is no effective treatment that can stop deterioration or reverse the deficits caused by the syndrome itself.
Polio Eradication vs Smallpox Eradication
The fight against polio is significantly different from the one against smallpox, and much harder.
Smallpox eradication was a much easier to achieve because every infection was clinically expressed in the same manner with rashes breaking out all over the body, so you could tell easily when someone had the disease. Once you found that a person had smallpox you could isolate them and vaccinate a ring of people around that person to stop the spread.
However, in the case of polio, every clinically expressed paralysis there are at least 200 children infected asymptomatically, which means you can’t find every polio infection (WHO). Each infected individual can go on to infect more people. When symptoms do present, they are not tell-tale. It may start with a fever and headache. In addition, ordinary muscle aches may get increasingly severe, and the patient’s reflexes can start to slow down. This is followed by paralysis. At this point a two-week waiting period begins during which stool samples are collected, sent off to the lab, and tested. By the time the diagnosis is confirmed, the virus may have traveled hundreds of miles in any direction. Therefore it is much harder to stop the spread of polio.
“I can say without reservation that the last mile is not only the hardest mile; it’s also much harder than I expected,” a resounding statement from Bill Gates that accurately highlights our last struggle against polio.
But the fight can be won – with perseverance and grit. If everyone remains vigilant the world can be free of polio.
“If the world delivers, then we will eradicate polio within six years. It will be another entry in a long list of improvements to the human condition. We cut the child mortality rate by 75 percent in the past five decades. We cut the poverty rate by 50 percent in the past two decades. We eradicated smallpox. These are mind-boggling successes. Adding the end of polio to the list will be one of the great moral and practical achievements of our age.”
~ Bill Gates, the greatest modern champion in the fight against polio