DOH: Polio re-emergence poses 'very low' risk for adults

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 23 2019 08:14 AM | Updated as of Sep 23 2019 08:33 AM

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III (3rd left) administers polio vaccine to a child as he joins members of the private sector on September 20, 2019 in launching "End Polio Now," a polio awareness and vaccination campaign. Health officials announced earlier that the Philippines has confirmed polio cases in some regions, after 19 years of being polio-free. Basilio H. Sepe, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — Adults have a "very low" chance of contracting polio, the Department of Health said Monday, after the Philippines recorded its first cases of the crippling disease in 2 decades. 

Polio, which can cause paralysis and even death and has no cure, was detected recently in sewage water samples from Manila and the southern city of Davao. The highly infectious disease struck a 5-year-old boy in Laguna, a province near the capital, and a 3-year-old girl in Lanao del Sur. 

Children aged 5 below still have weak immune systems and are most vulnerable to polio, said DOH Spokesperson and Undersecretary Eric Domingo. 

"Ang talagang high-risk po sa polio is children 5 years below kaya talagang sila iyong ipina-prioritize sa pagbabakuna," he told radio DZMM. 

"'Pag po adults, mababang-mababa po ang risk," he added. 

(Children 5 years old and below are at high risk of contacting polio so they are prioritized in the government's vaccination drive. For adults, there is a very low risk.) 

However, adults with very weak immune system can consult health specialists.

"Unless po siguro immuno-compromised, maaari silang magtanong sa kanilang center at tanungin kung kailangan silang bigyan ng bakuna rin [they can consult health experts if they still need vaccines," he said. 

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Children can get oral polio vaccines at health centers while adults can prevent the spread of the disease through personal hygiene and restroom sanitation, Domingo said.

A global effort to eradicate the disease has slashed infections from more than 350,000 cases in 1988 to just 33 last year, according to World Health Organization data. Only Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan have failed to stop transmission.

The Philippines' first polio cases since 2001 came after vaccinations in the capital plunged to 24 percent of the target numbers in June from over 77 percent in 2016, partly due to mistrust stoked by a dengue vaccine scandal, the DOH earlier said. 

In 2016, the Philippines became the first nation to use Dengvaxia, the world's first dengue vaccine, in a country trial program involving hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren. 

But controversy arose after its French manufacturer Sanofi disclosed a year later that it could worsen symptoms for people not previously infected with the virus. Manila stopped the program and banned the vaccine.

The disclosure sparked a nationwide panic, with some parents alleging the vaccine killed their children, though a government-commissioned investigation found no conclusive proof that it did. 

- With a report from Agence France-Presse