Monday, October 17, 2011

Polio soon to vanish everywhere

Yearly, in countries all around the world, Oct. 24 is marked as World Polio Day to encourage mankind’s fight against the dreaded disease, polio.

The only time in world history that humans completely eliminated a deadly disease from the earth was in 1979. After successful vaccination campaigns throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the World Health Organization (WHO) certified the eradication of smallpox in December of that year.

To the present, smallpox is the only human infectious disease to have been completely eradicated.  Now, we are on the verge of eliminating a second disease from the face of the earth: Polio.

As of Oct. 13, there have been only 444 cases of endemic polio in the world this year. This compares to 717 on the same date last year.  In 2010, there were a total of 1349 cases of polio in the world. Fifty percent of these cases occurred in Pakistan and Chad.

After a peak of over 300,000 cases (with 57,879 being fatal) in the U.S. in 1952, the introduction of the Salk vaccine in 1955 and of oral Sabin vaccine in 1961, the wild–type of polio has not been documented in the U.S. since 1979. That year, cases occurred in a religious group that declined immunizations. The last case of paralytic polio in the Western Hemisphere occurred in 1991, and the last non-paralytic case occurred in 1994.

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus that enters the mouth via the fecal-oral route, multiplies in the gastrointestinal tract, spreads into the blood, then spreads to muscles and the nervous system. After an incubation period of three-six days, it may cause fever, fatigue, headache, sore throat, vomiting, stiffness in the neck, and pain in the limbs, particularly in children under the age of three.

One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis (usually in the legs), which can develop in a matter of hours. Most people with paralysis recover some function weeks to months after infection.

Less than one percent of polio infections ever result in paralysis, and since most people infected with poliovirus have no signs of illness, they are never aware they have been infected.  After initial infection with poliovirus, the virus is shed intermittently in feces (excrement) for several weeks. During that time, polio can spread rapidly through the community. This means constant public health vigilance is important.

Among those paralyzed, five percent to 10 percent die when their breathing muscles become immobilized. Children whose legs are paralyzed by polio today often require crutches, special braces or wheelchairs in order to move around. Two-thirds of people have residual neurologic sequelae and a post polio syndrome resulting in a new onset of symptoms reappearing after 20-30 years.

In 1985, Rotary International and its affiliated Rotary Clubs undertook as the organization’s number one priority, the task of working with the WHO and countries worldwide to eliminate polio from the earth. Even as late as 1988, poliomyelitis infected nearly 1,000 children worldwide every day.

Rotary, with the recent help of funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, have raised over $800,000,000 to this end, and have sponsored countless hours of professional and volunteer help to provide oral vaccinations all around the world during National Immunization Days and on other occasions.

Humankind with the help of national governments worldwide, WHO, Rotary International with its members clubs, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is on the verge of wiping out polio once and for all.  The last few cases are the most difficult to prevent!

The Orofino Rotary Club, like its sister clubs in the United States and in the over 200 other Rotary countries of the world, take World Polio Day, Oct. 24, seriously. The Orofino Rotary Club hopes to raise a substantial amount of money to combat polio this year, and again each year, until Polio vanishes from the face of the earth.  Join us in our Polio fundraisers, as you are able, for humanity’s sake!

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