Health & Science

WHO Declares Polio Outbreak an International Public Health Emergency

Houston is well immunized against polio, but the disease is still cause for concern, especially for travelers.

This is the first time the World Health Organization has declrared a public health emergency since the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic.

There are currently polio outbreaks in ten countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Anna Dragsbeck, president and CEO of the Immunization Project, says the threat should not be taken lightly.

“I think it just underscores why it’s so important for people to get immunized and make sure that your children’s immunizations are up to date,” she said.

Getting immunized protects people from becoming infected with the polio virus. But, most people who do get infected can easily spread the virus. 

“Houston is well immunized against polio. So I don’t want anybody to panic, but it is something to be concerned about, if you are travelling to those countries where they’re seeing an outbreak,” Dragsbeck said.

WHO says that polio’s high transmission begins in May and June.

“It’s weather related. And in fact, we’ve seen over double the number of cases so far this year than we did last year for this time in the year,” Dragsbeck said.

She added that even if you are vaccinated for the polio virus, simple precautions should not be forgotten.

“You need to have good hand hygiene, cover your cough and sneeze, stay home if you’re sick. But really for vaccine-preventable diseases, all of those measures are great, but the best way to protect yourself is with a vaccine.”

It’s estimated that for every clinical case of polio that’s seen, there are are likely 100 others who are infected and silently spreading it.