Polio resurgence worries health authorities from London to Israel

Abdulnasser Alseddik/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Virtually eradicated in the world, poliomyelitis is making a comeback with a bang in 2022 (illustrative photo taken in February in a WHO vaccination center in Yemen).

Abdulnasser Alseddik/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Virtually eradicated in the world, poliomyelitis is making a comeback with a bang in 2022 (illustrative photo taken in February in a WHO vaccination center in Yemen).

HEALTH – There were only six known cases worldwide in 2021, but poliomyelitis has not yet been completely eradicated. Worse, in this summer of 2022, “polio” made a comeback in several places around the world, from Israel to New York. So much so that the local health authorities find themselves forced to take measures in the face of this threat which weighs above all on young children.

As a reminder, poliomyelitis is an extremely contagious disease that invades the nervous system to the point of causing, in the worst cases, total paralysis in just a few hours. The virus enters the body when contaminated water or food is ingested and can cause death when paralysis affects the respiratory muscles.

A terrible disease that has been known for centuries, but which cannot be treated once it has succeeded in infecting an individual. The only solution is prevention and therefore vaccination, which over the past thirty years has almost completely eradicated the infection in the world thanks to the efforts of national governments, NGOs and international bodies such as Unicef ​​and the WHO.

A first case since 1989 in Israel

While a plan has been set to defeat polio globally by 2026, the disease has made a noticeable comeback this year. For the first time in more than 30 years, it was first in Israel that a case was detected in early March. It was a four-year-old boy who had not been vaccinated.

Although the disease has been eradicated in the country, the systematic vaccination strategy has gradually been relaxed, and some children have stopped receiving the two protective doses of the vaccine. From Jerusalem, where the first case was detected, then gradually to the whole country, a national vaccination strategy was therefore put in place in the spring.

“With the exception of one child” who was asymptomatic, the Israeli authorities clarified that the other positive cases (nine in total) were not fully vaccinated. In addition, traces of the virus have been found in the sewers of several cities in the country, leading health authorities to lead a response of such magnitude.

A case that came from abroad to the United States

More recently, Thursday, July 21, it was the United States which in turn detected a case of paralyzing poliomyelitis in New York State. It had been nearly a decade since the disease had been detected in the country.

According to local health authorities, the person who was infected had been in contact with an individual who received an oral vaccine that has not been used in the United States since the year 2000, which makes them say that he should come ” from a place outside ” from the country. Indeed, this type of vaccine, if it protects the person who ingests it, can cause contamination in individuals in contact with it who are not protected. These contaminations, which do not make you sick, can nevertheless allow the virus to mutate before infecting new people.

The contaminated young man went to the hospital after the paralysis of one of his legs and subsequently, traces of the poliovirus were found in various samples of waste water before other positive cases were detected. Therefore, health authorities have reiterated the need to get vaccinated.

Little Londoners urged to get vaccinated

Finally, in London, all children aged 1 to 9 will be offered a booster vaccine against poliomyelitis after the virus was detected in sewage in several areas of the capital. This is the second control of this type after a first alert in June in a wastewater treatment plant.

While the virus was eradicated in 2003 across the Channel, the idea of ​​local authorities is to protect children as best as possible before a first positive case is confirmed. It should also be noted that the British are cooperating with Israel and the United States in particular to trace a possible link between the various contaminations of recent months.

For the United Kingdom and the United States, as for Australia where two cases of diphtheria have been detected after 100 years of absence of the disease, health experts, in particular on the side of the WHO, estimate that the Covid pandemic has played a significant role. The remoteness of the school environment where vaccination is encouraged, the overcrowding of hospitals, the disinformation having targeted vaccines as well as a relaxation of practices in the face of diseases which had practically disappeared are incriminated as having allowed the resurgence of these viruses.

In this regard, the WHO explains that the proportion of children who received the three doses of the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and poliomyelitis (DTP) fell from 86% in 2019 to only 81% in 2021. This vaccine is used as a key indicator of vaccination coverage worldwide. And the drop in vaccination is therefore indicative of a global relaxation.

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