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Polio: An International Public Health Emergency [LISTEN]

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polio virusThe World Health Organization is calling the recent spread of polio in Asia, Africa and the Middle East an international public health emergency.  The WHO released a statement that calls the number of reported cases of polio so far in 2014 an “extraordinary event” that requires a coordinated international response.  It says if polio continues to spread, it could unravel the nearly three-decade effort to eradicate the crippling disease.

What does this mean to Houston, a hub of international travel?  Dr. Peter Hotez is the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and an expert in global health and vaccinology.  He says people leaving countries experiencing polio outbreaks will now have to prove they’ve been vaccinated, but that won’t offer absolute protection.  Hotez says geopolitics will make it difficult for some countries struggling with outbreaks to comply.

Remember where polio is at its worst, right now. It’s Pakistan and Syria, so trying to issue paperwork and certificates in conflict-ridden countries such as those is going to be a pretty heavy lift.

Hotez says the risk of contracting polio for someone in the United States is low, but he still recommends taking precautions.

polio vaccine childThe major recommendation for people of Houston is make sure your children’s vaccinations are up to date.

Hotez feels he has to make this point, because a growing number of parents are not getting their children vaccinated against polio, or anything else.

We have parents who have unwarranted fears that vaccines can cause autism or other things, and there’s absolutely no evidence for that, and it’s absolutely essential that you vaccinate your child to prevent these deadly diseases.

Childhood vaccines eliminated polio from the U.S. in 1979.  They are still used to prevent new infections, yet — in Texas — Hotez says 30,ooo parents in Texas, alone, have decided not to get their children vaccinated.

Polio is a crippling and potentially deadly disease that usually strikes children under five who’ve been exposed to infected water.

If you’d like to hear News 92 FM’s Bonnie Petrie’s conversation with Dr. Hotez, you can listen here: 


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