7 May 2014

WHO warns polio threat an international public health emergency

1:52 pm on 7 May 2014

The World Health Organisation has declared the spread of polio an international public health emergency.

It says a coordinated international response is deemed essential to stop the international spread of wild poliovirus and to prevent new spread with the onset of the high transmission season in May and June 2014.

It says if unchecked, this situation could result in failure to eradicate one of the world's most serious vaccine preventable diseases.

The WHO says ten countries are currently infected in central Asia, the Middle East and in Central Africa and residents and travelers are being encouraged to take polio vaccine.

New Zealand's Ministry of Health says the Western Pacific region was declared polio free in 2000 as a result of immunisation.

It says polio is caused by a virus that can infect the bowel and from there can attack the nervous system, causing meningitis or paralysis.

The virus is found in secretions from the nose and throat and is spread by coughing, sneezing, sharing drink bottles and by contact with the faeces of an infected person.