After 19 years, polio re-emerges in Philippines

Raphael Bosano, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 19 2019 03:26 PM | Updated as of Sep 19 2019 04:55 PM

MANILA (UPDATE) - The Department of Health (DOH) on Thursday confirmed the re-emergence of polio in the Philippines, 19 years after the World Health Organization declared the country polio-free. 

One polio case has been confirmed in a 3-year-old girl from Lanao del Sur, while the virus has also been detected in water sewage samples in Manila and Davao, the DOH said.

A suspected case of acute flaccid paralysis is also awaiting confirmation, it added.

"A single confirmed polio case of vaccine-derived polio virus type 2 or two positive environmental samples that are genetically linked isolated in two different locations is considered an epidemic in a polio-free country," the agency said.

The DOH said there is "no cure for polio" and that "it can only be prevented with multiple doses of polio vaccines that have long been proven safe and effective."

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III earlier warned that the country was at "high risk for poliovirus transmission" as there had been a drop in oral polio vaccine (OPV) coverage in the past years. 

“In 2018, the vaccine coverage for the third dose of OPV was 66 percent. This figure is below the 95 percent target required to ensure that the whole population is protected against polio,” he said.

The decrease in polio immunization was traced back to the vaccine scare linked to the controversy over anti-dengue virus Dengvaxia, said to have ill effects if given to those who have not had dengue.

The DOH urged parents to have their children, especially those under the age of 5, to be vaccinated at the synchronized oral polio immunization program it would launch next month.

"It is the only way to stop the polio outbreak and to protect your child against this paralyzing disease," it said.

"Aside from immunization, we remind the public to practice good personal hygiene, wash their hands regularly, use toilets, drink safe water, and cook food thoroughly."

Polio is a highly contagious disease caused when the poliovirus invades the nervous system.

Signs and symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiff neck and sudden onset of floppy arms or legs. Severe cases can lead to permanent paralysis or even death.