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Posted by Dr. Monica Wonnacott | January 26, 2016

Should I Be Worried About Polio?

There isn’t a day that goes by in my practice that I don’t hear concerns from parents over vaccines. Are they safe? Is it too many at all once? And especially, should I really even worry about that disease? Great question.

An article in the AAP NEWS (from the American Academy of Pediatrics) addresses the concern for a polio outbreak in the United States. I realize that polio is not a disease that people in my generation and younger think much of, in fact very few people have ever seen it. I happen to be among the very few who have an older family member who got the disease and has long term consequences of it.

Many people take artificial comfort in knowing that the United States was certified “polio-free” in the early 1990s. Many people also don’t know that Tajikistan was also certified “polio free” and is now experiencing a polio outbreak. So far there are over 560 reported cases of people with flaccid paralysis as a result of getting polio in that country. So what are the reported immunization numbers in Tajikistan? Maybe they don’t vaccinate anyone, right? In fact, the polio immunization rate in Tajikistan is 87% (the World Health Organization target level is 90%). That is impressive to me. It is such a shame to me to have hundreds (even one is too many) of people suffering from paralysis as a result of a disease that is completely vaccine preventable.

So where does that leave us? There are MANY communities in the United States that have vaccination rates far below Tajikistan’s 87%. We are one international traveler (who is an asymptomatic disease carrier) away from our own outbreak. This is just a little food for thought as you consider whether or not to worry or not about a devastating disease that is “eradicated.”