October 30, 2013 by jeliwobble
The news coming through from Syria today, like most news from Syria, was faintly alarming. Along with the uptick in infections in Somalia and the surrounding countries as well as the endemic infections in hard to reach regions of Pakistan (especially given as they like to kill vaccination workers there), polio is rearing its ugly head once again.
This got me to thinking about how lucky we are in the Western world (again) to have access to clean water and vaccinations. Polio is transmitted via the fecal oral route, and because kids like to play in water, water that may contain raw sewage, it tends to infect kids the most often. The peak of polio infections, in the 1950s, demonstrated that you didn’t have to be a child or be in untreated water to contract the disease. Franklin D Roosevelt, erstwhile president of the USA, picked it up while bathing in a swimming pool in Canada. Not long afterwards, it was discovered that chlorine, something that had only recently started being used for pool sanitising, deactivated the virus, one of only three things that do so (heat and formaldehyde being the other two).
Sanitation has put paid to most polio infections in the West, and ultimately that’s the argument put forward by many in the antivaccination camp. We (meaning people living where sanitation happens) do not need to vaccinate against polio because we know how to prevent infections and do so.
With global travel, though, it would only take one person, adult or child, coming back infected from a holiday in the Middle East or Africa where they *don’t* have the same sanitation we do, and to then swim in a local pond, where there isn’t any chlorine or other sanitation, for a whole community to be exposed.
Which got me thinking that it really would only take one of the big Pharmacological companies to decide that they would like to spread a little panic and ‘accidentally’ dump a hundredweight of polio virus into, let’s say, one of the Great Lakes, for vaccine uptake to reassert itself.
Either thought is so frightening, that I don’t actually know how anyone can not vaccinate their child.