Polio, Why Aren’t You History?

23 04 2009

Why are we still reading about polio?  This virus (of which there are three types) won’t go away which is a tragedy when there are good vaccines to prevent infection.

The current status info from the CDC reads like this:

   Since 1988, when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was established, the incidence of polio has decreased from an estimated 350,000 cases annually to 1,655 reported in 2008.

   Cases of wild poliovirus (WPV) type 2 were last reported in October 1999, and indigenous WPV types 1 and 3 (WPV1 and WPV3) have been eliminated from all but four countries worldwide (Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan).

This month, a report on PBS  discussed the rumors spread in northern Nigeria a few years ago.  The word on the street was that the polio vaccination campaign was a U.S.-led conspiracy against Muslims. Rather than protecting children, the vaccine supposedly made the little ones infertile.  As these rumors spread, several regional governments in northern Nigeria suspended the vaccination program – some for as long as 13 months.

After the CDC and others spent months working with leaders in the area, explaining where the vaccine comes from and its safety, the people started to come around.  Now, in Nigeria, the vaccination campaign is back, yet cases of polio in Nigeria and elsewhere continue to ebb and flow.

So, why are we still reading about polio?

  • Not everyone is getting vaccinated. 
  • Symptoms are slow to appear after initial infection, making it harder to get a jump on the virus when it first appears. 
  • In poorer countries, the public health infrastructure is weak, making it difficult to educate the population about the disease and prevention methods. 
  • Vaccine delivery and administration is affected by the lack of government support.
  • Those administering the vaccines are sometimes improperly trained and/or submit false reports with inflated numbers of people receiving vaccinations.

Where’s the end?  No one seems to know.  Polio should be history, but instead, it continues to be the nightly news.