Saturday, August 24, 2013

Ethiopia polio case signals expanding African threat

Ethiopia recently detected a polio infection in a young child, the country's first case since 2008 and an event thought to be part of a growing outbreak across the Horn of Africa.

The case was detected in an 18-month-old child from the Warder district, which borders Somalia, where 108 polio infections have
already been detected this year, according to the latest update from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). The illness involved wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1).

Carol Pandak, who leads Rotary International's polio eradication program, said the detection of a case in Ethiopia isn't surprising, the Voice of America (VOA) reported yesterday. "This area has been considered high risk because of its proximity to Somalia," she said.

The GPEI update also noted that eight new WPV1 cases have been reported over the past week in districts in Somalia that have already reported infections.

Health officials recently called Somalia's outbreak "explosive" because of a steep rise in cases that has even exceeded the number of cases seen in countries where the disease is endemic. Immunization teams there have reached about 4 million children since May, but have had problems reaching areas controlled by armed Islamist militants, according to earlier reports.

In May, when the first cases this year were detected in Somalia and Kenya, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that the risk to neighboring countries was high because of large-scale population movements across the Horn of Africa. It urged all countries in the area to enhance their surveillance for the disease.

In other developments, a WHO official said there are some positive developments on the polio front, despite the spread of the disease in part of Africa and the detection of a strain from Pakistan in sewage in most parts of Israel, Scientific American reported yesterday.

Bruce Aylward, the WHO's assistant director for polio, emergencies, and country collaboration, told the journal that persistent transmission is always a concern, but so far this year the world has seen only one type of virus—WPV1—and fewer substrains of it.

The three remaining Polio-endemic countries, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria, have confined the virus to the smallest areas ever seen and in the smallest numbers ever seen, he said. So far the cases in Afghanistan have been limited to areas right across the border from Pakistan.

And though Israel is seeing the virus circulate, it has confronted the virus several times before and has always stopped it, Aylward said. Likewise, Somalia has been reinfected multiple times as well, he added.