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World Health Organization declares public health emergency amid polio surge

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Monday, May 5, 2014, 7:44 PM - A recent surge in polio cases has prompted officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) to issue a rare public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).

The declaration was made following a week-long consultation of polio experts who cited a surge in cases in 2014, despite it being low season for the disease.

Polio is typically spread through contaminated water. Warmer weather and spring rain in the northern hemisphere stands to exacerbate the situation, which officials fear may already be getting out of hand.

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By this time last year, 24 polio cases had been reported, according to NewScientist.

This year there has already been 68 cases -- nine of them coming from countries which reported no cases last year.

A child receives a polio vaccination in this file photo. Courtesy: Flickr Creative Commons/RIBI Image Library

A child receives a polio vaccination in this file photo. Courtesy: Flickr Creative Commons/RIBI Image Library

The majority of the cases -- 59 in total -- are from Pakistan.

A PHIEC issuance is incredibly rare. The only other PHIEC was declared in 2009, during the swine flu pandemic.

Officials made the announcement Monday, warning the disease has the potential to spread rapidly in the months to come, destroying nearly 30-years of work to eradicate the disease.

In response to the emergency vaccination drives will be stepped up and authorities will work to ensure that international travelers are vaccinated.

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Pakistan has already established vaccination booths at all land border crossings and plans to vaccinate both children and adults.

Polio is a highly contagious infection that can lead to paralysis, breathing problems and, in some cases, death.

Health experts are blaming the resurgence of the disease on a lack of childhood immunization and adults neglecting to get boosters.

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