Wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) has broken out in China for the first time since 1999 and the strain has been genetically linked to the polio virus circulating in Pakistan, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Nine cases have been confirmed in China so far, six children and three adults, all in Hotan prefecture in the western province of Xinjiang, WHO spokesman Oliver Rosenbauer said, adding that Chinese authorities are investigating whether the latest cases are related to each other. In response to the outbreak, the Chinese Ministry of Health has launched a vaccination campaign targeting millions of children.
WHO rates as “high” the risk of further international spread of WPV from Pakistan, particularly given the expected large-scale population movements associated with the upcoming Hajj (the main annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) in the coming months as well as Umrah (other pilgrimages to the city throughout the year), it said in a statement, and recommends that all travelers to and from Pakistan have full protection with three or more doses of oral polio vaccine.
According to WHO, polio is now considered to have spread nationwide in Pakistan, mainly due to insecurity that has halted vaccination campaigns. Pakistan has reported 84 polio cases so far this year, up from 48 for the same time last year. In 2011, supplementary immunization activities (SIAs) in Pakistan have been inadequate in high-risk areas such as the security-compromised and inaccessible parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) including Khyber, Balochistan, and Sindh. Tests on water in sewage systems outside these areas had also detected the virus transmitted by human excrement.
To address the widespread transmission of wild poliovirus affecting the country, the Pakistani government has this year launched a National Polio Emergency Action Plan. However, the impact of the plan is not yet being seen at the critical program implementation level.
The outbreak in China marks a setback to a global campaign to eradicate polio, now endemic in only four countries—Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan. In 1988, when the drive began, the virus paralyzed nearly 1,000 children each day.