Polio, one of the oldest and most dreaded childhood diseases (Wilson, 2005), is in the news again. This disease was thought to be all but eradicated (99.9%) but due to disruptions and with anti-vaccine sentiment spreading across the world, the virus is making a big comeback (May, 2022).
The polio, or poliomyelitis, is caused by the poliovirus. This virus has the largest impact on children under 5 years old (WHO, 2022). Out of 200 people infected 1 person will suffer irreversible paralysis, out of this group 5–10% will die when their breathing muscles are paralysed (WHO, 2022). Needless to say, this virus is not fun.
1 in 4 people infected with poliovirus will have flu-like symptoms, these symptoms usually only last 2-5 days and then go away on their own. Polio’s symptoms include:
✔ Sore throat
✔ Stomach pain
How Can You Treat Polio?
The Wild Poliovirus has no known medical treatment other than preventing it through vaccinating (WHO, 2022).
How Is Polio Transmitted?
The poliovirus is very contagious and spreads through person-to-person contact; the virus can contaminate food and water, so it thrives in unsanitary conditions (CDC, 2022).
Are There Cases Of Polio In South Africa?
South Africa has been certified polio free twice by the WHO’s African Regional Certification Commission (NICD, 2019). The first time was back in 1989, the same year we had our last the last wild case of polio in South Africa (NICD, 2019).
But our clear status was revoked in 2017 because of gaps in our routine immunisation coverage and surveillance systems (NICD, 2019). We were only officially certified clear again in 2019 (NICD, 2019). There has been no new infections in South Africa, but the country is on alert as infections pop up in neighbouring countries.
Polio Is Back In Africa
Now only a year after the continent of Africa was declared indigenous wild poliovirus-free, the virus has resurfaced and paralysed a child in Malawi and in Mozambique (Chinele, & Prabhu, 2022; Uwishema et al., 2022).
A health worker vaccinates children in Nigeria with the oral polio vaccine.
But this does not mean that Africans have lost our Polio free certification. The version being spread is not a form that is found naturally in Africa but rather the wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1), is being transmitted (Chinele, & Prabhu, 2022).
This is a strain that is endemic to Pakistan and Afghanistan (Franco-Paredes et al., 2022). In addition to vaccine-derived poliovirus (Chinele, & Prabhu, 2022).
The world’s attempts to end polio has hit a big road block in the form of a vaccine-derived poliovirus. A mutated form of the virus that has popped up in the United Kingdom and the United States of America (Franco-Paredes et al., 2022).
Vaccine-derived poliovirus (also known as VDPV) is a kind of polio that mutated from the weakened form of the virus in the oral polio vaccine.
There are two kinds of vaccines used against polio, the one that is injected and one that is swallowed orally. The one that is injected uses a (dead) inactivated virus, and the oral one uses an alive but weakened form of the virus to train your immune system. Learn more about how these kinds of vaccines work in our article on the 5 different kinds of COVID vaccines.
The weakened virus in the oral vaccine, can very rarely (2 to 4 events per 1 million) mutate in the gut of children with compromised immune systems and cause a kind of paralysis (NICD, 2018; Polio Eradication, 2020). The weakened version can also spread for at least 12 to 18 months in unsanitary, unhygienic and overcrowded conditions, and mutate back to a ‘neurovirulent’ form that can infect and paralyse children that are unvaccinated (Polio Eradication, 2020; WHO, 2022).
What Is Being Done To Stop Polio?
✔ A new version of oral vaccine has been developed, nOPV2, which aims to stop the spread of both Vaccine-derived poliovirus 1 & 2.
✔ Vaccine coverage must be increased. To do this, governments, health authorities, and vaccination groups, must work together.
✔ Trust needs to be rebuilt in vaccines. Something that was hurt by the false information spread about the COVID-19 vaccine.
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