DOH announces polio comeback after 19 years of polio-free PH

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The Department of Health (DOH) has declared on Thursday a polio outbreak in the Philippines, 19 years after it was declared free of the infectious disease.

Poliomyelitis is a contagious disease which causes paralysis, difficulty breathing and even death.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the case of a three-year-old girl from Lanao del Sur, who was diagnosed with poliovirus type 2, warned the polio epidemic. 

“A single confirmed polio case of vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 or two positive environmental samples that are genetically linked isolated in two different locations is considered an epidemic in a polio-free country,” Duque said.

In the meantime, the DOH has yet to confirm a case suspected of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP).

Country representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) Rabindra Abeyasinghe, said that the type 2 poliovirus had not been existent for a very long time and actually was certified eliminated in the Philippines. 

Poliovirus in waterways of Metro Manila, Davao City

“[S]o the vaccination program that the DOH and other countries implement does not contain vaccine specifically targeting type 2 in the oral polio vaccines,” said Abeyasinghe following the outbreak declaration.

In 2000, WHO declared that the Philippines was free of the disease. 

However, scientists from the health department has also detected poliovirus in samples from sewage in Manila and waterways in Davao City, Duque said. Despite that, he clarified that they have yet to find polio cases in those places. 

According to Ferchito Avelino, epidemiology bureau director, the three-year-old girl was  “apparently well at home but with residual paralysis.”

The case started on June 26 and the National Institute of Infectious Diseases confirmed it on September 14. 

“There is no cure for polio. It can only be prevented with multiple doses of polio vaccines that have long been proven safe and effective,” Duque said. 

Furthermore, WHO mentioned that a child with this disease has the possibility of passing the disease to others, especially those children five years and below. 

Polio vaccination campaign

In response to this epidemic, the DOH will conduct mass immunization campaign.

“The DOH… is preparing a rapid response to the polio outbreak. This includes a series of synchronized oral polio vaccinations to protect every child under the age of 5 years in areas at risk beginning in October,” Duque said.

“We strongly urge parents, health workers and local governments to fully participate in the synchronized polio vaccination,” he said, believing that immunization is the only way that will “stop the polio outbreak and to protect your child against this paralyzing disease.”

Apart from vaccination, Duque advised the public to “practice good personal hygiene, wash their hands regularly, use toilets, drink safe water, and cook food thoroughly.”

He also added that the factors that caused a low immunization rate for the disease were poor coverage, poor environmental sanitation and hygiene, and suboptimal AFP surveillance.

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