Polio makes alarming comeback, World Health Organization warns

In this photo released by UNICEF, a health worker administers polio vaccine to a child as part of a UNICEF-supported vaccination campaign in Damascus, Syria, Oct. 29, 2013. Omar Sanadiki, AP Photo/UNICEF

The World Health Organization says the spread of polio is an international public health emergency that threatens to infect other countries with the crippling disease.

In an announcement Monday, the agency described the ongoing polio outbreaks in Asia, Africa and the Middle East as an "extraordinary" situation requiring a coordinated international response.

Polio usually strikes children under five and is usually spread via infected water. There is no specific treatment or cure, but several vaccines exist.

Experts are particularly concerned the virus continues to pop up in countries previously free of the disease, such as Syria, Somalia and Iraq -- where civil war or unrest complicates efforts to contain the virus.

Some critics say the rapid spread of polio could unravel the nearly three-decade effort to eradicate it.

Earlier this year, WHO warned that Pakistan appeared to pose the greatest threat of a resurgence of polio. In 2013, Pakistan recorded 92 new cases, beating Nigeria and Afghanistan -- the only other polio-endemic countries -- by almost 2 to 1. WHO said that Pakistan's beleaguered battle to eradicate polio is threatening a global, multi-billion-dollar campaign to wipe out the disease worldwide.

Comments