Pakistan faces new polio cases

Associated Press
In this Feb. 9, 2014 photo, Pakistani health workers vaccinate children against polio, in Peshawar, Pakistan. Pakistan’s beleaguered battle to eradicate polio is threatening a global, multi- billion dollar campaign to wipe out the disease worldwide. Because of Pakistan, the virus is spreading to countries that were previously polio free, say U.N. officials. “The largest poliovirus reservoir of the world,” is in Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan’s northwest Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province, which borders Afghanistan, according to the World Health Organization. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)

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Raising a worldwide alarm, the World Health Organization announced Monday that spread of polio is an international public health emergency that could grow in the next few months and unravel the nearly three-decade effort to eradicate the crippling disease.

The agency described current polio outbreaks in Asia, Africa and the Middle East as an "extraordinary event" that required a coordinated international response. It was the first-ever international alert on polio.

"Until it is eradicated, polio will continue to spread internationally, find and paralyze susceptible kids," Dr. Bruce Aylward, who leads WHO's polio efforts, said during a press briefing.

Polio usually strikes children under five and is most often spread via infected water. There is no specific cure, but several vaccines exist.

Experts are particularly concerned that the virus continues to pop up in countries that were previously free of the disease, such as Syria, Somalia and Iraq — where civil war or unrest complicates efforts to contain the virus. That spread has happened during the traditionally low season for polio spreading, leaving experts worried that cases could spike in the coming months. (AP)

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