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Polio outbreak in Republic of Congo

12th November 2010

Authorities in the Republic of Congo have launched an emergency response to a polio outbreak in the country.

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The national response plan in the central African country starts this week, kicking off with a vaccination programme supported by international agencies.

The current polio outbreak has killed scores of people in and around the country's second largest city, Pointe Noire, which is at the centre of the acute poliomyelitis outbreak.

According to figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva, 184 cases of acute flaccid paralysis and 85 deaths have been reported.

The cases have clustered around the port city of Pointe Noire, with 5 reported from Niari, 2 from Bouenza, 2 from Kouilou, and 1 from Brazzaville.

Congo has not seen a confirmed case of indigenous polio for 10 years, with the last one reported in 2000.

Symptoms range from a mild infection to severe paralysis within hours of catching the virus.

Children under five years old are often the biggest victims of a polio outbreak, but the Congolese epidemic is unusual in that most of the reported cases have been in people older than 15.

Four of the reported cases have been confirmed to have been caused by a wild poliovirus, type 1.

This strain is similar to one circulating across the border in Angola.

The response programme is being supported and coordinated with the help of WHO, the children's agency UNICEF and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In Nigeria, there has been a 98% reduction in new cases this year compared with the previous year, following recent progress towards eradication.

Health experts say this points to a need for fast action to stop fresh outbreaks. Central Africa is a top priority in global disease prevention and control.

The vaccination programme will aim to deliver monovalent oral vaccine drops to a minimum of one million people in and around Porte Noire, the coastal district of Kouilou and a further 600,000 in neighbouring Angola.

A second wave of immunisations will begin next week, to be followed by two more rounds of vaccination covering the whole nation.

Further data on how the outbreak develops will determine which groups are prioritised, as further cases continue to be reported.

The WHO called on health authorities in central African countries to remain on the alert, especially in the prompt detection and reporting of acute flaccid paralysis cases.

Gaps in polio immunisation coverage should be addressed, and anyone travelling to or from the Republic of Congo, Angola or the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), should also have the vaccine, WHO said.

WHO Global Polio Eradication Initiative Rod Curtis said that political instability had knocked out polio immunisation campaigns for the last 15 years.

 

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