Environmental samples taken from Tondo, Manila and Davao City were tested positive for vaccine derived poliovirus type 2 (VDPV2).  This was followed by confirmation of two polio human cases from Lanao del Sur and Laguna.

All positive samples were tested by the National Polio Laboratory at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.  All VDPV2 samples, with the exception from the Laguna case, were reportedly “genetically linked.”

“This series of events led to the declaration of a polio outbreak by the Department of Health on September 19, recommended by the Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations (IHR) regarding the international spread of poliovirus,” stated the joint report of two UN agencies – the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

This is very alarming.  “Circulating VDPV2 is highly contagious and expected to spread rapidly due to low level of population immunity against poliovirus type 2,” the joint report said.  The cVDPV2 is considered a public health emergency.

Polio, the shorter term for poliomyelitis, “is a crippling and potentially deadly infectious disease,” says the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “It is caused by poliovirus.  The virus spreads from person to person and can invade an infected person’s brain and spinal cord, causing paralysis (can’t move parts of the body).”

Most people (about 72 out of 100) who get infected will not have any visible symptoms.  About one in four people with poliovirus infection will have flu-like symptoms that may include sore throat, fever, tiredness, nausea, headache and stomach pain.  “These symptoms usually last 2 to 5 days then go away on their own,” the CDC says.

However, a smaller portion of those infected with poliovirus will develop other more serious symptoms that affect the brain and spinal cord: paresthesia (feeling of pins and needles in the legs), meningitis (infection of the covering of the spinal cord and/or brain) occurs in about one out of 25 people); and paralysis or weakness in the arms, legs, or both.

“Paralysis is the most severe symptom associated with polio because it can lead to permanent disability and death,” the CDC states.  “Between 2 and 10 out of 100 people who have paralysis from poliovirus infection die because the virus affects the muscles that help them breathe.”

According to CDC, there are cases where children who fully recover can develop new muscle pain, weakness, or paralysis as adults, 15 to 40 years later.  This is called post-polio syndrome. 

Although polio has been traced back almost 6,000 years, there is still no cure for the disease until now.  However, it can be prevented with three doses of oral polio vaccine (OPV) and one dose of inactivated polio vaccine (IPV).

“These vaccines have long been used in the Philippines, proven safe and effective and are given for free in health centers,” said Health Assistant Secretary Dr. Abdullah Dumama, Jr. 

The re-emergence of poliovirus in the country was reportedly due to the low vaccination coverage over the years.  “Estimated polio vaccination coverage for children aged less than one year with the required 3 doses for 2018 was 66% (far below the recommended 95%),” the joint report said.

While the assessment of WHO appears “to be low” in terms of the risk of international spread of polio from the Philippines,” the risk of further spread within the Philippines “is high due to limited population immunity.”

The IHR, however, the international spread of poliovirus remains “a public health emergency of international concern.”

As such, the Bureau of Quarantine (BQ) of the health department recommends that all travelers going to and out of the Philippines “to be fully vaccinated against polio.”  This is in compliance to the Temporary Recommendations of Statement of the Twenty-first IHR Emergency Committee.

“Filipinos are not restricted from travelling to other countries at this time,” said the health department in a press statement.  “But before they leave, we strongly advise them, most especially our OFWs (Overseas Filipino workers), to check if the country that they will be travelling to requires a vaccination certificate,” Health Undersecretary Rolando Enrique Domingo explained.

Travelers who are leaving for countries that require immunization, can receive a dose of IPV before departure and secure an international Certificate of Vaccination from the BQ that will serve as proof of vaccination.

As for those entering the country, travelers including foreign nationals and returning Filipinos of all ages, who are intending to stay in the Philippines for four weeks and more and have not received any polio vaccination in the last 12 months, are “encouraged to have themselves immunized with a single dose of IPV not later than four weeks before their scheduled travel to the Philippines.”

Those with urgent travel without four weeks are “recommended to receive a single dose of IPV at least by the time of departure as this will still provide added protection, particularly for frequent travelers.”

Please be guided, accordingly.