The World Health Organization has declared the spread of polio is an international public health emergency.
The agency called for three countries, Pakistan, Cameroon, and Syria, to take measures to stop the international spread of the virus. WHO said it’s especially important that residents and longtime visitors to those countries be vaccinated for polio before traveling and that they carry proof of vaccination.
Afghanistan, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq and Israel were also mentioned as “posing an ongoing risk” for spreading the virus. The only other time WHO has made a similar declaration was in regard to an international swine flu pandemic in 2009.
“If unchecked, this situation could result in failure to eradicate globally one of the world’s most serious vaccine preventable diseases,” WHO said in a statement.
WHO reported 413 cases of polio worldwide in 2013. The disease was only thought nearly eradiated. The recent re-emergence has been linked to thwarted vaccination campaigns in conflict zones such as Pakistan and Syria.
Polio mainly affects children under five years old.
The virus is transmitted through contaminated food and water, and multiplies in the intestine. It can then invade the nervous system, causing paralysis in one in every 200 infections. It is capable of causing death within hours.
The USA has been polio-free since 1979, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But vaccination remains crucial and travelers to countries with polio outbreaks may need booster doses, the agency says.
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