Syria polio outbreak spreads to Damascus, Aleppo

In this Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013 file photo, displaced Syrian children line up to receive vaccinations against polio at one of the Syrian refugee camps in the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon. AP

An outbreak of polio in Syria is spreading throughout the country, according to the World Health Organization is reporting.

The outbreak had been confined to the Deir Al Zour province in Syria, but the international health agency said Tuesday one case has been found in rural Damascus and another has been confirmed in Aleppo.

This is the first confirmation of widespread circulation of the virus, according to WHO. Officials plan to continue to monitor the outbreak through next year.

“It is anticipated that outbreak response will need to continue for at least six to eight months,” the agency said in a statement.

As of Nov. 26, a total of 17 cases of polio have been reported, including 15 in Deir Al Zour.

In early October, health officials reported a potential outbreak of the contagious virus after more than 20 children showed symptoms of the paralysis caused by the disease.

By the end of the month, WHO officials had confirmed 10 cases.

Fears for a larger outbreak prompted a major vaccination push targeting 22 million kids under 5 in seven Middle East countries and territories. The WHO-backed Global Eradication Initiative announced the effort in November.

One week later, the WHO said 21 countries in the Middle East and in nearby regions jointly declared the eradication of polio an emergency priority, singling out Pakistan for its role in the Syria outbreak.

According to the agency, the strain being seen in Syria originated in Pakistan, where the disease is endemic. The only other areas polio is endemic are Afghanistan and Nigeria.

A research letter published Nov. 8 in The Lancet suggests a polio outbreak in the Middle East could have far-reaching implications in neighboring Israel and Europe.

The authors pointed out that some European nations have low vaccination coverage and may be at added risk if refugees flee to them, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukraine and Austria.

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