Sunday, October 2, 2011

The recent polio outbreak in China and the world eradication effort

According to a BBC News article from September 30th, Xinjiang province in China has been the site of 10 polio cases and one polio-related death within the last few weeks. This comes as a shock for both Chinese citizens and international disease experts alike, since China has been declared to be polio-free for more than a decade.

Genetic testing was used to trace the strain back across the border to Pakistan, which is one of very few countries in the world (Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and Nigeria) in which polio is still seen regularly. The virus most likely entered the country when its traveling host crossed the border. This method of transmission is common enough that there are now vaccination stations at border crossings between Pakistan and India.

Back in China, health officials are orchestrating a strong vaccination effort in order to prevent a more widespread outbreak. Citizens are vaccinated at home, at school, and at bus stations and airports, and vaccinated children are marked behind the ear with permanent ink in order to keep track of who has received the vaccine.

Dr. Heidi Larson of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine says that polio has very nearly been completely globally eradicated, but it persists in some areas year after year. Oliver Rosenbauer of the World Health Organization stressed in the article that it is most important to fight polio in these “endemic” areas, because these are the areas in which polio will spread most easily. Hopefully the strong response in China will prevent a larger spread of the disease and be another step on the way to complete polio eradication.

--Sarah Kaewert

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