Comment: Dr Ben Neuman explains why the polio outbreak in Syria is a danger to Europe
Release Date 08 November 2013
Dr Ben Neuman, from the University of Reading's School of Biological Sciences, said:
"Where war goes, pestilence, famine and death often follow. Each new baby who is born is at risk for polio until vaccinated, and conflict inevitably disrupts local vaccination efforts. Poliovirus has been nearly eradicated for almost a decade now. Most of the last pockets of poliovirus in Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and now Syria have been centres of conflict. It is likely that poliovirus will continue to linger, following conflict around the globe until it is eradicated once and for all.
"The Syrian outbreak puts Europe at risk because of the way we give vaccines. In parts of the world where it is still possible to catch a wild strain of poliovirus, children are usually vaccinated with a live but genetically weakened poliovirus which gives excellent protection but has a tiny risk of changing back to the more dangerous form. However, in parts of the world where polio has been eradicated, like the UK, children are usually given a killed vaccine. It doesn't protect quite as well but it cannot mutate, so it protects reasonably well while preventing polio from being accidentally reintroduced to a country.
"Vaccination is never perfect, so despite being vaccinated, a small percentage of children in the UK would be at risk of contracting polio if they were exposed to the virus. Until the virus is completely extinct, it is essential that we continue to vaccinate our children."