Polio Outbreak in Tajikistan

The Health Ministry is warning Israelis traveling to Tajikistan to be vaccinated against polio due to an outbreak of the illness in that country.

Hana Levi Julian , | updated: 5:59 PM

Only 4 countries still have endemic polio
Only 4 countries still have endemic polio
Israel news photo: courtesy of WHO

The Health Ministry is warning Israelis traveling to Tajikistan and those already in the country that there has been an outbreak of polio near the border areas of Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.

According to a report published by the World Health Organization (WHO), seven cases of the virus have been confirmed thus far.

In response, the Ministry of Health recommends that all travelers to these areas be vaccinated against the disease . The recommendation, in fact, already exists for travelers to Afghanistan due to that country's endemic polio status.

The worldwide injections of the vaccine to fight the disease, created by Jonas Salk, has nearly wiped it out. Just before the immunization became available in the 1950s, a devastating epidemic in 1952 killed more than 3,000 people out of nearly 60,000 confirmed cases in the United States alone.

Polio no longer exists in the Western hemisphere.

Doctors are being told to be on the lookout for acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) -- which is a sign of polio -- and to review their immunization records to ensure that children are adequately protected. At least 128 cases of AFP had been reported in Tajikistan by April 22, and 10 of the infected children had died. However, the polio virus was detected in only seven of these cases, according to the WHO report. Uzbekistan has also reported three cases of AFP.

Outbreak confirmed by WHO
A team of six WHO experts are in the country to work with the Tajik national health authorities. The outbreak was confirmed by tests conducted at the WHO Collaborating Center in Moscow.

“This is the first importation of polio in the European region since Europe was certified as polio-free in 2002,” noted Sona Bari, a spokesperson for the WHO Polio Eradication Initiative on Monday. She added that three large-scale vaccination campaigns are being carried out and are expected to reach some 864,000 children under age five. Bari added that genetic sequencing is under way to identify the origin of the outbreak. Routine immunization in Tajikistan is around 87 percent, she noted; however, “there are sub-pockets in all countries, including remote rural areas, which are less well-vaccinated than others.”

Surrounding countries, including Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyztan – which recently underwent a coup – are also being asked to step up their medical awareness and intervention.

Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nigeria are the last four nations in the world to report active cases of polio. However, several recent outbreaks were reported in Africa due to importation.

About Polio, or Poliomyelitis

Poliomyelitis, often referred to simply as polio, or infantile paralysis, is an acute viral infection that is extremely contagious and which has plagued humanity since ancient times. The illness itself produces no symptoms in more than 90 percent of its victims (asymptomatic polio) – but the remaining four to eight percent of those who become sick may suffer any of three different forms:

*  abortive polio: mild form with flu-like symptoms

*  nonparalytic polio: more serious form, linked to aseptic meningitis and includes neck stiffness and sensitivity to light

*  paralytic polio: severe, debilitating form

Although those who fall ill with abortive polio usually make a full recovery, people who become infected with paralytic polio may suffer respiratory difficulty and paralysis of the arms and legs. The disease can be fatal.