October 23 marked the beginning of World Polio Week and great strides have been made toward the eradication of the crippling viral disease. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) says, “Since the global polio eradication effort was launched 26 years ago, generations of children in many areas of the world have grown up free from the threat of polio. Over 10 million children have grown up able to walk, play and develop who would otherwise have been paralyzed. This World Polio Week is the first in which South East Asia is certified polio-free, and where the entire African continent is on the brink of eradicating this terrible disease. This means that more parents than ever before are free from the fear that their children will be paralyzed by this terrible disease.”

Image/Chris Zahniser, B.S.N., R.N., M.P.H.

Polio cases have decreased by over 99% since 1988, from an estimated 350 000 cases then, to 416 reported cases in 2013. The reduction is the result of the global effort to eradicate the disease. In 2014, only 3 countries (Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan) remain polio-endemic, down from more than 125 in 1988.

Of the 3 types of wild poliovirus (type 1, type 2 and type 3), type 2 wild poliovirus transmission has been successfully stopped (since 1999).

However, polio still remains a big issue in Pakistan where four additional polio cases were reported during the past week. Of these, 3 are from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) (1 from South Waziristan and 2 from Khyber Agency); and 1 from Lakki Marwat district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.

This brings the total number of WPV1 cases in 2014 to 210 compared to 46 in 2013 by this date. In fact, this is the highest number of cases on record by October in any year, and accounts for more than 85% of all cases worldwide.

In 2014 to date, there has been 247 total cases reported in both endemic and non-endemic countries.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It invades the nervous system, and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. The virus is transmitted by person-to-person spread mainly through the fecal-oral route or, less frequently, by a common vehicle (e.g. contaminated water or food) and multiplies in the intestine. Initial symptoms are fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the neck and pain in the limbs. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis (usually in the legs). Among those paralyzed, 5% to 10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilized.

Polio mainly affects children under 5 years of age.

There is no cure for polio, it can only be prevented. Polio vaccine, given multiple times, can protect a child for life.