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Polio outbreak in Nigeria spurs renewed calls for immunization, surveillance :

September 13, 2016

Health officials and Academy leaders are calling for increased vigilance after an outbreak of wild polio struck Nigeria for the first time in two years.

The new cases marked a setback to the efforts that have eradicated polio in most corners of the globe.

“This outbreak is a strong reminder that access remains a challenge in certain areas, and every country needs to remain vigilant by strengthening surveillance systems and vaccinating all children against polio,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., wrote in a letter to the health community.

Three children in the Borno state of Nigeria have been infected with wild poliovirus type 1, and the strain appears similar to a 2011 case in the region, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

A young boy in Nigeria receives the polio vaccine. Photo courtesy of the CDC.A young boy in Nigeria receives the polio vaccine. Photo courtesy of the CDC.

The WHO has deployed additional staff and resources to bolster its emergency response efforts in Nigeria, a country in the throes of a humanitarian crisis where access to health care is limited and violence is pervasive.

Nigeria also is receiving support from Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), which has been credited with reducing polio cases worldwide by 99% since 1988. There were 74 cases of wild polio last year, with cases only in Pakistan and Afghanistan, according to the WHO.

The Academy is an active member of GPEI, providing expert input and advocating for increased access to immunization even in areas of conflict or war.

“It is disappointing to see this virus re-emerge in Africa but it underscores the importance of having strong health systems and universal vaccine programs to prevent children from having to endure these diseases,” said AAP CEO/Executive Director Karen Remley, M.D., M.B.A., M.P.H., FAAP.

The Academy recently fortified its stance on the importance of vaccines in a policy statement calling for the elimination of non-medical vaccine exemptions from immunization requirements and a clinical report that addresses how to handle families who are hesitant about vaccination.

In light of the new outbreak, pediatricians should be especially diligent about adhering to the Recommended Immunization Schedule, which includes four doses of inactivated poliovirus vaccine.

The Academy’s 2015 clinical report Eradicating Polio: How the World’s Pediatricians Can Help Stop This Crippling Illness Forever also offers advice on actions pediatricians should take to help fight polio, including:

  • ensuring travelers are fully vaccinated;
  • considering polio in children with a fever and flaccid paralysis; and
  • advocating with government officials and pediatric societies to boost access to immunization worldwide.

“Until eradication is achieved,” the report says, “we will always be at risk for poliovirus reappearing anywhere in the world.”

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