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WHO Reports Syria Faces Polio Outbreak, Risk of Spreading

Update Date: Oct 29, 2013 11:41 AM EDT

Just last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that Syria might be facing the first ever polio outbreak in over a decade. Since then, WHO has received confirmation that polio is indeed spreading in the country with at least 22 people, the majority of them being babies and toddlers, supposedly infected. As of last Thursday, Oct 24, the Syrian Health Ministry has started an immunization drive.

"There is a cluster of 22 acute flaccid paralysis cases that is being investigated in that area," Oliver Rosenbauer, the spokesman for WHO, reported to Reuters. "Everybody is treating this as an outbreak and is in outbreak response mode."

The outbreak is occurring in the eastern province of Deir al-Zor. Of the 22 cases, ten of them have been confirmed to be polio. The remaining 12 cases are still waiting confirmation from laboratory tests. WHO believes that the children who have been afflicted with polio were either never vaccinated or only received one dose of the oral vaccine. The oral version is a three-dose vaccine.

Polio is caused by a virus that is transmitted via contaminated food and water and during wartime, food and water tend to be dirty. When infected, polio affects the body's nerves and can lead to full or partial paralysis. It can spread quickly among children under five-years-old, which is why vaccinations are extremely important. Before the Syrian civil war started in 2011, roughly 95 percent of children were vaccinated against this virus. UNICEF believes that 500,000 children now are vulnerable to the virus because they have not been immunized.

"With cases of polio now emerging in Syria for the first time since 1999, reaching every child with polio and other vaccinations is not only an urgent and critical priority for Syria but for the whole world," the executive director of UNICEF, Anthony Lake said.

WHO stated that even though containment of the disease is the most important task right now, investigations into how it started and where the virus came from would begin shortly.

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