The World Health Organisation has announced that health authorities in Burundi have detected eight samples of polio. This discovery has led to the official declaration of the first outbreak in the country in over 30 years.
According to a statement from Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, the disease is transmitted through contaminated water and food, or by contact with an infected person. Although many people infected with polio do not become seriously ill, some can develop acute flaccid paralysis.
The wild-type virus of polio is only present in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Mozambique, but vaccine-derived outbreaks have recently been seen in other countries, including Madagascar, Malawi, Nigeria, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen, the UK, and America. Early detection of the virus is essential in containing a potential outbreak.
Health officials in Burundi confirmed cases in an unvaccinated four-year-old boy in the Isale district in the west of the country, along with two other children who were in contact with the boy.
The government of Burundi has declared the outbreak a national public health emergency and announced that it would hold a vaccination campaign for children under seven in the coming weeks. The presence of circulating poliovirus type 2 was confirmed in five samples from environmental surveillance of wastewater.
The WHO has expressed support for the national efforts to ramp up polio vaccination to ensure that no child is missed and faces no risk of polio’s debilitating impact. Investigations are underway on the epidemiology of the limited outbreak, including risk assessments to ensure containment, by the WHO, health authorities, and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative partners.
Health officials have stated that the Burundi cases were vaccine-derived type 2 poliovirus, which occurs when the weakened virus used in polio drops circulates for long periods among those who have not been immunised and mutates to become harmful again.