DAMASCUS, Syria, Oct. 29 (UPI) -- Health officials confirmed Tuesday there are at least 10 cases of polio in Syria, mostly in children age 2 and younger.
Earlier in October, a cluster of "hot" acute flaccid paralysis -- weakness, paralysis and reduced muscle tone without other obvious cause such as trauma -- was believed polio. That cluster has grown to 22 cases and wild poliovirus type 1 has been isolated in 10 cases, World Health Organization officials said.
Final genetic sequencing results are pending to determine the origin of the isolated viruses, WHO said. Larger-scale outbreak response across the Syria and neighboring countries is anticipated to begin in early November and is expected to last at least six to eight months depending on the area, WHO said.
Frequent population movements across the region and subnational immunity gaps in key areas, the risk of further international spread of wild poliovirus type 1 across the region is considered high, WHO said. A surveillance alert for additional potential cases has been issued.
Wild poliovirus had not been detected in Syria since 1999 and prior to the conflict, immunization coverage in Syria was about 95 percent, UNICEF officials said.
About 500,000 children in Syria have not been vaccinated against polio in the past two years due the fighting, health officials said.
However, even before laboratory confirmation of the polio, health authorities in Syria, WHO, UNICEF and neighboring countries had begun planning and implementing a comprehensive immunization program to vaccinate children against polio, measles, mumps and rubella, in both government-controlled and contested areas.
The first part of the vaccination campaign began in October and 800,000 children in Grades 5–9 were given the measles/mumps/rubella vaccine. A further 1.6 million children, age 5 and younger are being vaccinated during a catch-up vaccination campaign, which began earlier this week and will run for two weeks, WHO said.
The MMR vaccine will be given to children who missed it during the first round and the polio vaccine will be given to all children regardless of their previous doses, in addition to routine vaccinations for the drop-outs. In addition, children age 5 will also receive a vitamin A supplement, WHO said.