Incidence of polio among kids on the increase

By Drum Digital
14 May 2014

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued a warning to parents that the incidence of polio among children is on the increase. Although no cases have been reported in South Africa recently, outbreaks of the disease in some countries are currently so alarming the WHO has declared it a public health emergency.

In 1988 the disease was endemic in 125 countries but after an intensive and comprehensive immunisation programme it was nearly completely eradicated. Cases have since been reported in Syria and this year cases were uncovered in 10 countries including Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This week WHO spokespeople in Geneva, Switzerland, said the incidence of polio complied with the organisation’s standards for a health crisis.

“If we don’t act we could fail in preventing one of the world’s most dangerous diseases through immunisation,” WHO assistant director-general Bruce Aylward said, adding that this year alone 74 new cases had been reported, of which 59 were from Pakistan.

Polio also occurred in Central Africa this year and experts warned parents to have their children immunised against the disease.

Polio symptoms

Polio is a viral infection which in nearly 95 per cent of cases has no symptoms. In the remaining five per cent the illness presents in three forms:

  • A mild form called abortive polio (most people with this type may not even suspect they have it because their sickness is limited to mild flu-like symptoms such as mild upper-respiratory infection, diarrhoea, fever, sore throat and a general feeling of being ill).
  • A more serious form associated with aseptic meningitis called nonparalytic polio (one to five per cent show neurological symptoms such as sensitivity to light and neck stiffness).
  • A severe, debilitating form called paralytic polio (this occurs in 0,1 per cent to two per cent of cases).

People who have abortive polio or nonparalytic polio usually make a full recovery. However, paralytic polio, as its name implies, causes muscle paralysis — and can even result in death.

-Mieke Vlok

Sources: ENCA, WGO, New York Times,

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