The US eradicated polio in 1955 following a massive immunisation drive with inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV). However, fears have mounted again after the New York State Department of Health alerted community members a few weeks ago that a person in Rockland County had tested positive for polio. On August 12, health officials also reported poliovirus samples in New York City’s wastewater samples.
Following the discovery of the poliovirus in two areas of London before this case, there are many questions regarding the resurgence of polio and if India should be worried?
So, what should India do? “India is already doing a good job with polio management and vaccination. Our door-to-door and micro-level interventions are an example of the collective will of our people and Government, very well acknowledged by the WHO. Besides, our environmental surveillance is top notch. And that’s what we need to keep doing. As part of our routine community drills and sampling, we too detected some polio strains in sewage samples around Mumbai last year. Sewage is a very good indicator because it is a receptacle of all that is coming out of the human body. But nobody fell ill. We do get a few odd examples every year but there’s immediate follow-up and vigilance,” says virologist and public health microbiologist, Prof Gagandeep Kang.
Of course, she stresses the need to focus on complete immunisation with the inactivated virus vaccine. “Generally, both the inactivated virus vaccine and the oral vaccine are used. The oral polio vaccine contains a weakened version of the poliovirus. While the oral vaccine is effective and generally safe, it may cause polio down the line in people with weakened immune systems as it mutates back, that too one in a million scenario. A spread could happen only when there are a lot of unvaccinated people around such a person. Of course, in the US, the Jewish man in whom the virus was detected was unvaccinated,” says Dr Kang.
Even today, Indian health officials target approximately 165 million children, according to WHO data, for tracking the quality of immunisation.