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'High risk' of international spread of poliovirus from Pakistan: WHO

September 21, 2011 - Geneva

The risk of a deadly strain of poliovirus spreading from Pakistan is high, particularly given the large-scale population movements associated with Umrah and the upcoming Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) in the coming months, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned.

"Wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) genetically linked to virus currently circulating in Pakistan has been isolated in China. Pakistan is affected by nationwide transmission of WPV1, and is the location of the only wild poliovirus type 3 (WPV3) case in Asia in 2011 (a strain on the verge of elimination on the continent)," the WHO said in a statement.

As at 13 September 2011, Pakistan had reported 84 cases, compared to 48 cases for the same period in 2010, it said, adding that in 2011, supplementary immunization activities (SIAs) in Pakistan have been inadequate in quality in key high-risk areas.

At the same time, undetected circulation cannot be ruled out due to persistent subnational surveillance gaps, it noted.

"Given these factors, the widespread transmission of WPV1, documented spread internationally, and the detection of the only WPV3 in Asia in 2011, the WHO rates as 'high' the risk of further international spread of WPV from Pakistan," the statement said.

The WHO said it is important that countries across Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean strengthen disease surveillance for acute flaccid Paralysis (AFP), in order to rapidly detect any poliovirus importations and facilitate a rapid response should importation occur.

"Countries should also continue to boost routine immunization coverage against all strains of polio to minimize the consequences of any introduction," it added.

As per recommendations outlined in WHO's International travel and health, travellers to and from Pakistan should be fully protected by vaccination.

Saudi Arabia has issued vaccination requirements for travellers of all ages for Umrah and Hajj, in line with recommendations outlined in the WHO's International travel and health.


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