Written by By Laura DoGostelo, CNN
Tens of thousands of children have been caught up in the polio outbreak in Pakistan, triggering a scramble to vaccinate children against the disease as fears grow of a World Health Organization emergency declaration.
On Monday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, condemned the alarming progress the epidemic has made in the previous week, stressing the urgent need to “stabilize and halt” the spread.
Five separate cases of polio had been reported in the last 48 hours in Pakistan, having originally caused around 41 documented cases in the country last year, according to WHO.
According to Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust and the Wellcome Foundation, “if polio is not brought under control in Pakistan, we must consider that it will likely spread to the other neighboring countries and the rest of the world.”
The disease typically shows no symptoms in adults. Once caught, it causes a highly infectious virus that is passed from person to person, particularly through feces, in soil and water. In most cases, the virus infects the paralyzed, lifelong victims by pricking their nose or mouth with a contaminated needle or syringe.
“Potentially every time a child has polio that could infect one of their siblings, and their siblings’ siblings, and potentially infect one of us in the future,” Farrar told CNN in March.
“These are human beings and therefore they are susceptible to what are, in effect, vaccine-preventable diseases.”
To catch and control polio, the WHO has urged Pakistan to expand its polio vaccination program. The agency says it also wants to strengthen the health, economic and social capacity of Pakistan.