Displacement, violence likely cause of Iraq’s first polio case in 14 years

Health officials in Iraq are stepping up polio immunization and surveillance following the first confirmed case of the virus in the country in more than a decade.

“It is a huge blow because for 14 years Iraq has been polio free,” Syed Jaffar Hussain, head of mission for the World Health Organization (WHO) in Iraq, told IRIN.

WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Region poliovirus laboratory in Egypt and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the USA both confirmed the outbreak, detected after a six-month-old baby living on the outskirts of Baghdad became paralysed.

The strain’s genetic sequence matches the one found last September in Syria – wild polio virus type 1 (WPV1) – but it is not yet clear how the virus made it to the Iraqi capital or how the boy became infected. His family has no links with Syria or record of recent travel there.

Polio is a disease caused by a highly-infectious virus that attacks the nervous system, mostly in children under the age of five. According to WHO, one in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis; and of those paralysed, 5% to 10% percent die.

Iraq, which was already on high-alert because of the earlier outbreak of polio in Syria, is home to more than 200,000 Syrian refugees, most of whom have sought refuge in the northern Kurdish region of the country…