Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Be Immunised Not Paralysed! (by Polio)

That was one of the advertising slogans that helped eradicate polio in Australia. Last night I watched Foreign Correspondent it was about the polio emergency in Pakistan.

In northern Pakistan and in some parts of Afghanistan the Taliban have started killing vaccine workers. This is a political, chopping of your nose to spite your face, message to the Americans. The CIA made the fatal mistake of using a polio vaccine clinic to spy on Osama Bin Ladin eventually resulting in his death. The CIA has since promised to never use a vaccine clinic like that again. Targeted drone assassinations continue in the tribal areas of Pakistan which only inflames the situation.

Polio is a very infectious virus that can cause varying states of disability from having a weak arm or leg to complete paralysis requiring mechanical ventilation. It spreads via the faecal-oral route (not washing your hands after going to the toilet) infecting the intestines first then in some cases entering the bloodstream and finally nervous tissue. Over 90% of polio cases have no symptoms at all meaning that virus can hide and spread in seemingly healthy populations then suddenly appear as an epidemic.

Polio is almost like a version of muscular dystrophy - that you can catch. My brother and I have both seen the effects of polio firsthand. We knew the last ever person to be affected by polio in Australia and we also knew June Middleton – "the person who had spent the longest amount of time living in an iron lung". June even had a certificate from Guinness to prove it. Sadly both are no longer with us.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century there was polio epidemic after epidemic. Infectious diseases hospitals the world over had wards full of people in iron lungs. Thankfully, Hilary Koprowski, Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin developed vaccines to fight polio. This has allowed polio to be eliminated throughout the majority of the planet. Starting in 1988 was a final global push for eradication led by Rotary, the WHO and UNICEF. The polio virus should have gone the way of the dinosaurs by now, but war, instability and staggering amounts of stupidity have got in the way of vaccination efforts. It doesn’t help that there are also those in the West who are against any vaccine.

The anti-vaccine lobby only has the option of not vaccinating their children because of the people around them that are vaccinated. These idiots take advantage of what is called herd immunity. A virus like polio needs to travel from person to person, but if enough people are vaccinated it blocks the virus from spreading to the entire population. The anti-vaccine lobby endangers us all especially those where the vaccine does not work and for people that could not be vaccinated because of a compromised immune system.

There is nothing more tragic when you see a young child, who was running around a couple of days before, be struck down and never walk again.

Be Immunised Not Paralysed!

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