US joins Congo and Yemen on WHO watch-list for countries where polio is spreading


US joins Congo and Yemen on WHO watch-list for countries where polio is spreading: Virus found in wastewater from five New York counties

  • Health chiefs said that America met criteria for inclusion in the WHO-run list
  • New York has already declared an emergency over the outbreak saying it could not afford to ‘roll the dice’ over polio
  • There are 21 nations that have detected polio in 2022, mostly in Africa
  • UK and Israel are also on the list after spotting the virus in their wastewater 

The United States has joined the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen and Somalia on a watch-list of nations where polio is spreading.

Health chiefs said Tuesday that America met the criteria for the list because detections of the virus in wastewater suggested it ‘continues to be transmitted’.

New York has already declared an emergency over the virus saying it could not afford to ‘roll the dice’ after it was detected in wastewater in the state and a man who was paralyzed. It is yet to be detected in another state.

There are 21 nations on the World Health Organization-run list that have detected polio within the last year, mostly in Africa. The UK and Israel were also included this year after spotting the virus in wastewater.

Polio is a serious concern because it can trigger an infection of the brain or spinal cord and, in rare cases, lead to paralysis. Health officials are calling on all Americans to get up to date with their polio vaccines which scientific studies show are safe and at least 99 percent effective against the disease.

The above map shows the five counties in New York that have detected polio in their wastewater. These are Rockland, Sullivan, Orange, New York City and Nassau

The United States has been added to the WHO’s list of countries where ‘vaccine-derived’ poliovirus is circulating.

This means that there is evidence for continued transmission in these countries either due to cases being spotted in humans or detections in wastewater.

The viruses spreading in the nations must also be vaccine-deried, meaning a weakened type of live virus used in jabs has gone on to infect others.

Which countries have spotted polio in 2022? 

Below is the list of countries that have spotted polio in 2022.

The list, compiled by the World Health Organization, contains: 

  • Algeria;
  • Benin;
  • Burkina Faso;
  • Central African Republic;
  • Chad;
  • Democratic Republic of Congo;
  • Djibouti;
  • Egypt;
  • Eritrea;
  • Ghana;
  • Israel;
  • Madagascar;
  • Mozambique;
  • Niger;
  • Nigeria;
  • Palestine, occupied area;
  • Somalia;
  • Togo; 
  • United Kingdom;
  • United States;
  • Yemen.

Source: WHO 

Only the oral polio vaccine uses the weakened live virus, which the U.S. stopped rolling out in 2000 to replace it with the inactive polio jab. But other nations including Pakistan and Nigeria continue to deploy the shot.

Today’s announcement raises questions over whether the U.S. should retain its status for polio eradication which it reached more than four decades ago.

But there are no wild strains circulating in the country at present. Only Afghanistan and Pakistan are still detecting wild types of the virus.

This year American health authorities were alerted to the outbreak after spotting polio in a Hasidic man in Rockland County, New York, who was paralyzed.

Since then it has been detected in wastewater from five counties in the state. These are: Orange, Sullivan, Nassau, New York City and Rockland.

Cases have been linked back to those detected in London and Jerusalem this year using genetic testing. 

In response the state started urging residents to come forward for vaccination and last week declared a state of emergency.

Its health commissioner Dr Mary Bassett said at the time: ‘On polio, we simply cannot roll the die. If you or your child are unvaccinated or not up to date with vaccinations, the risk of paralytic disease is real. I urge New Yorkers to not accept any risk at all.

Most people who are infected with polio suffer no symptoms from the virus.

But about one in 20 patients face infections of the brain or spinal cord, while in rare cases it can also lead to paralysis.

There is no cure for the disease, with health officials instead calling on everyone to get vaccinated as the best line of defence.

Children in the U.S. are routinely offered a three-course vaccination against polio, with the first shot administered at two months old and the last by the age of 18 months.

They are also offered a booster shot between the ages of four and six years to shore-up protection.

Studies show the jab is 99 percent effective at preventing infection with polio.

But in recent years and amid Covid disruption the United States has fallen behind in vaccinating youngsters against the disease.

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