By Sean Adl-Tabatabai
The World Health Organization has confirmed that a polio outbreak has hit Syria as a result of an oral polio vaccination program.
This is the first re-emergence of the virus in Syria since 2014, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and the World Health Organization said on Thursday.
According to Michel Zaffran, head of the WHO’s polio program, the Syrian government have made a formal request for new emergency vaccines in order to treat around 200,000 children in the region.
The new cases of polio are vaccine-derived polioviruses – viruses from the oral polio vaccine used in some developing countries.
WHO’s Communications Officer, Oliver Rosenbauer stated that vaccinating even 50 percent of the estimated 90,000 children under the age of five in Deir al-Zor would probably not be enough to stop the outbreak. To have maximum effect and protect the population, immunization rates should be closer to 80 percent.
“Are we concerned that we’re in fact going to be seeding further future polio vaccine-derived outbreaks? … Absolutely, that is a concern. And that is why this vaccine must be used judiciously and to try to ensure the highest level of coverage,” Rosenbauer said.
Polio is a highly infectious virus that affects mainly young children. The virus is transmitted person-to-person and mainly through a fecal-oral route or through contaminated water or food.
Polio can paralyze a child within hours of exposure.
Syria is one of the last remaining countries where polio causes a health risk. Until now, the virus remains endemic in Pakistan and Afghanistan.