On November 12th the first wave of a 3-million-people polio immunization campaign starts in Ponte Noire, as well as in the Department of Kouilou, Republic of Congo, and 16 districts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Angola, the World Health Organization (WHO), Africa announced today. WHO says individuals of all ages are being targeted in this campaign.
A polio outbreak was confirmed in the Republic of Congo on November 4th. Of the 226 reported cases of AFP (acute flaccid paralysis) 97 have died; what WHO describes as "an unusually high mortality". Four AFP cases have been confirmed as polio so far. Patients with flaccid paralysis typically experience weakness, possibly paralysis and reduced muscle tone - without an obvious cause. When the signs and symptoms come on suddenly, it is called acute flaccid paralysis (AFP). AFP is the most common sign of acute polio.
The majority of people becoming ill are aged from 15 to 29 years, an example that populations that have not been exposed to full immunization are particularly vulnerable. Vaccinating everyone, regardless of age, is aimed at stemming the spread of the disease by raising general immunity levels.
Dr Luis Sambo, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said:
- "Every man, every woman, every child will be immunized irrespective of their past immunization status. This way we can be assured that everybody is reached, including young adults, whose immunity may be low."
Prof. Georges Moyen, Minister of Health and Population of the Republic of Congo, said:
- "The Government has a good assessment of the situation; it is worrying. Partners and resources are being mobilized to implement an appropriate response and to ensure a good take-up by the population."
- "We have to stem this fast-moving outbreak. The overriding priority is to vaccinate all people to prevent more cases and deaths as quickly as possible. We are at a critical juncture and stopping polio in Africa requires our absolute commitment".
Ambroise Tshimbalanga Kasongo, Chairman, Rotary's Africa PolioPlus Committee, said:
- "Rotary has mobilized emergency funding to respond to this outbreak. With a quick response, we can stop the disease from further spread."
Polio, caused by the poliovirus, is an extremely contagious virus specific to humans. The virus typically enters the environment in the feces of an infected individual. In areas where sanitation is poor, the virus easily and rapidly spreads via the fecal-oral route, through contaminated water or food. Humans in direct contact with an infected person can also become ill.
Signs and symptoms, such as neck and back stiffness, abnormal reflexes and breathing and swallowing difficulties will usually alert a doctor to the possibility of polio. A doctor who suspects polio will need to test samples from either the patient's throat, stool or cerebrospinal fluid to confirm a diagnosis.
Written by Christian Nordqvist