The World Health Organization has issued an alert that a
dangerous strain of polio has spread from Pakistan to China and that the risk is high that it will emerge in other countries.
It is the first time that polio has been confirmed in China since 1999. CNN reports that the outbreak there has left one person dead, and nine people hospitalized.
Pakistan this year has reported 84 cases of the strain, known as wild poliovirus type 1, as of mid-September, up from 48 over the same period last year. The WHO blamed that nation’s outbreak, according to Reuters, on immunization campaigns that have been undermined by security problems.
Vaccinations are credited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with keeping the U.S. free of polio since 1979, but the crippling disease persists in parts of Asia and Africa.
The WHO said the risk of a further international spread of the illness is elevated by “the expected large-scale population movements” from upcoming Muslim pilgrimages to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The main pilgrimage, the Haj, begins in November.
As The Associated Press reports, a WHO official said the strain of polio identified in Pakistan and China is particularly dangerous, in part because it spreads relatively easily. The organization said countries should strengthen their disease surveillance systems, and that travelers to Pakistan should be vaccinated against polio.
Polio usually is transmitted through contaminated food, water or feces. It invades the nervous system and often leads to permanent paralysis.