WHO Warns of Polio Outbreak in Syria
TEHRAN (Tasnim) - At least 22 people, most of them babies and toddlers, are suspected of having polio in Syria, the first outbreak of the crippling viral disease in 14 years, the World Health Organization reported.
"There is a cluster of 22 acute flaccid paralysis cases that is being investigated in that area," WHO spokesman Oliver Rosenbauer told Reuters news agency. "Everybody is treating this as an outbreak and is in outbreak response mode."
If confirmed, it would be the first outbreak of the disease there in 14 years. Syria's Health Ministry began an immunization drive on Thursday.
Before Syria's civil war began in 2011, some 95% of children were vaccinated against the disease, but the United Nations' Children's Agency (UNICEF) estimates 500,000 children have not been immunized.
WHO said the suspected outbreak centres on the eastern province of Deir Ezzor.
Polio invades the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours. It is endemic in just three countries, Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but sporadic cases also occur in other countries.
Worldwide, cases of polio decreased from an estimated 350,000 when the campaign began in 1988 to 223 reported cases in 2012, according to the WHO. So far this year, not including the cases in Syria, there have been 296 cases worldwide.
UNICEF said on Thursday it had chartered a plane filled with vaccines and food to combat the rising threat of other types of disease and malnutrition among Syrian children.
The cargo, which has landed in Beirut and will be trucked into Syria, had vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella as well as 'supercereal', a fortified food for children.
The WHO is now working with the UN, Syria's Health Ministry and other agencies on a mass immunization program.