Syria's Polio Outbreak Could Spread To Europe, Experts Warn

Doctors warn Syria\'s recent polio outbreak could spread to Europe.
Posted at 5:26 PM, Nov 09, 2013

It's a disease most of the world thought it had wiped out. But after decades of being polio-free, Europe might once again be at at risk.

The threat is coming from across the globe in war-ravished Syria. It's there a recent outbreak of the virus paralyzed at least 10 children — a number that's expected to rise. (Via The Guardian

International health workers are racing to get vaccines to the half a million Syrian children left unvaccinated — many of whom are living in refugee camps in neighboring Lebanon and Jordan. (Via CNN)  

Writing in The Lancet journal, two German doctors have warned the thousands of refugees fleeing Syria could bring the disease back to Europe.

Experts warn children are most vulnerable in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukraine, and Austria, which have some of Europe's lowest vaccination rates. (Via BBC

Most of Europe, like the U.S., uses what's called the inactivated polio vaccine. Problem is, experts say while the vaccine works well against preventing paralysis, it only partially protects against the spread of the virus.

A virologist at the University of Reading says this leaves a small percentage of children in the U.K. vulnerable: "Vaccination is never perfect. … Until the virus is completely extinct, it is essential that we continue to vaccinate our children." (Via The Independent

With polio, only 1 in 200 victims develops paralysis. The rest are silent carriers. For that reason the doctors say the virus could go unnoticed in Europe for at least a year before an outbreak is detected. (Via UNICEF

Although polio spreads between people, it can also survive in water and sewage. Experts are suggesting governments in Europe begin routine screenings of sewage water in cities with high concentrations of Syrian refugees.