Polio returns to Syria

Ten paediatric cases of Polio have been confirmed in Syria by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and twelve more are awaiting laboratory results.

Poliomyelitis, or simply Polio, is a viral disease caused by the poliovirus. This is a small and simple virus with a single-stranded positive-sense RNA genome. Polio is transmitted via oral-faecal route and the mildest form of the disease results in flu-like symptoms and gastrointestinal disturbances. However, if the virus enters the central nervous system, it results in non-paralytic aseptic meningitis, acute flaccid paralysis, or encephalitis.

The vaccine is very effective and safe, but there is no cure for polio. Symptomatic patients must rely in symptom-relief approaches and complications prevention, such as antibiotics, analgesics, physical therapy, and in some cases surgery.

Polio has not been reported in the country for the past 14 years. Immunisation is very successful under normal circumstances, but is a challenge in war environments. According to BBC, vaccination rates diminished from 95% in 2010 to 45% in 2013. Many hospitals are currently closed and most of health carers have left.

The disease has a major risk of uncontrolled spreading due to overpopulation in refugees camps, poor hygiene and sanitation infrastructures, and contaminated water supplies.

Supplementary immunisation is being planned to occur in bordering countries, such as Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. There is an outbreak alert, and health care force is searching for additional potential cases.

Asymptomatic carriers are the major threat as they do not realise they are infected, but continue to spread the disease.

It is suspected that polio has been carried by foreigners who are fighting in Syria, and further DNA analysis is being done to identify the strains and origins of the virus.

Additionally, other diseases, such as measles, typhoid and hepatitis A, have been reported amongst Syrians.