A polio outbreak has been confirmed among Syrian children, the majority of them being under the age of two. This is the first outbreak seen in the country since 1999. A campaign with the goal of immunizing 2.4 million children in Syria and in neighboring countries has begun, in addition to a previous campaign, which was launched on October 24th. Officials worry that the disease will spread in countries such as Israel, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey, all of which have taken in countless refugees daily due to the Syrian Civil War.
The vaccination campaign is scheduled to begin within the first week of November. It is also expected to last from six to eight months. The outbreak is centered in the province of Deir Al Zour. According to Oliver Rosenbauer, a spokesman for WHO, those affected by the disease “are believed never to have been vaccinated or to have received only a single dose of the oral vaccine instead of three which ensure protection.”
It is feared that the disease will spread quickly throughout Syria, due to the civil war causing vaccinations rate to fall. In 2011, before the war started, the rates of polio vaccination among children were at 95 percent. Compared to the nearly 500,000 children, almost 100,000 of whom are at risk of contracting polio in Deir al Zour alone, who have not received any vaccination against the disease since then, it is clear that the vaccinations rates have plummeted. In addition to that, many doctors have left Syria. The doctors who have chosen to stay work without supplies, due to hospitals being destroyed or taken over as a result of the war.
The outbreak was possibly caused by a group of foreign fighters from Pakistan. They came at the aid of the rebel combatants. Pakistan, Nigeria, and Afghanistan are the only remaining countries in which polio is still endemic. However, the possibility of it coming from another country that is also experiencing an outbreak, such as the Horn of Africa, cannot be ruled out either.
The outbreak was determined through the tests of 22 children who had acute flaccid paralysis, which is a symptom of polio. “In 10 of those cases, they’ve isolated wild polio virus type one,” Rosenbauer explains, “the other 12 are still being investigated.” Young children are more often affected by paralytic polio, which is polio’s most dangerous form, than adolescents or adults. If the disease enters the bloodstream and attacks the spinal cord, the victim is permanently paralyzed. One in two hundred polio victims are affected by this form of the disease.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for polio. The only treatment is caring for the patient until the disease goes away on its own. The most successful preventive measure is, of course, immunization. Polio is most often transmitted through contaminated water and food.