Two children in southwestern Ukraine have been paralysed by polio, the first outbreak of the disease in Europe since 2010, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday, in a setback for a global eradication campaign.
The WHO said Ukraine had been at particular risk of an outbreak because of inadequate vaccination coverage. In 2014, only 50 percent of children were fully immunised against polio and other preventable diseases, it said.
The risk of further spread within the country is high, although the threat to nearby Romania, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia is low, a WHO statement said.
There is no cure for polio, which attacks the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours of infection. It mainly affects young children in areas with poor sanitation.
A global vaccination campaign has largely stamped out the virus, and only Pakistan and Afghanistan have reported cases of wild polio virus this year. Madagascar and Nigeria have suffered vaccine-derived outbreaks, like Ukraine.
The oral vaccine contains a very weak live virus and is considered very safe and effective in preventing the disease. But immunised children excrete the vaccine, and within about 12 months it can mutate in the environment and begin causing paralysis again in unvaccinated children.
“This is an epidemic-prone disease,” said Oliver Rosenbauer, a spokesman for the WHO’s polio eradication department. “This is a virus that’s very good at finding susceptible children.”