It starts like the flu, with symptoms that include a fever, headaches and vomiting. But it can lead to loss of reflexes, severe muscle aches or spasms, and – ultimately – paralysis.
The polio virus is highly contagious and in modern Australia it’s easy to take our freedom from this disease for granted. But Australians who lived in the 30s, and 40s and 50s, would remember the horror of a polio epidemic.
Syria eliminated polio in 1999, but the first cases in this war-torn nation in more than a decade have now been confirmed.
The World Health Organisation has declared a polio emergency in Syria, after 10 cases of polio were recorded in October. Then, the outbreak grew to 17 recorded cases.
Now, there are more than 60 suspected cases of polio in the country – with new cases being reported every day.
In most of these cases, the children who are affected are under 2 years old – as they have contracted the virus after missing routine vaccinations since the war started. During Syria’s civil conflict, millions have been displaced, and many are living in dire conditions.
The viruses return shows how badly health systems can collapse under the pressure of wartime politics.
Dr. Mohammed Al Saad, part of the EWARN medical team, warned NPR, “It is spreading quickly.”
At this point, mass immunisation is believed to be the only way to stop the outbreak.
Mahendra Sheth, a UNICEF Regional Health Advisor, explains that, “With large population movements and the breakdown of regular health services in Syria, additional precautions are required to ensure that children are protected against killer diseases … Immunisation is one of the most cost-effective tools we have available.”