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Polio threatens to make a comeback in parts of the world


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SALT LAKE CITY — Concern is growing that polio — a disease that once was nearly eradicated — could erupt again.

In recent years, 99 percent of all cases of polio were eradicated. The disease was found only in three countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. But now it's spread to Syria and Somalia.

Decades ago, there was no vaccine available to the 35,000 children infected with the virus in the United States. In 1955 a vaccine was introduced, but today 322 cases are reported worldwide.

Utahn Denny Mecham contracted polio as a 5-year-old boy. Sixty-five years later he still lives with side effects of the virus. We asked what goes through his mind when he hears about recent cases, knowing a vaccine is available.

"I get real emotional about that because kids are getting this that don't need to. Anyway, you touched a nerve," he said.

It took Mecham three years to gain mobility.

As a Rotarian, Dr. Scott Leckman and his team of seven travel to India yearly to help stop the virus from spreading.

"We are really, really close to getting this job done," he said.

About polio
  • Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus that invades the nervous system.
  • Approximately 95% of persons infected with polio will have no symptoms.
  • Fewer than 1% of cases result in permanent paralysis of the limbs.
  • Of those paralyzed, 5-10% die when paralysis strikes the respiratory muscles.
Source: CDC.

The only way, Leckman said, is through immunizations. He said new cases are prevalent in areas where children cannot receive the vaccine.

"Whenever these cases pop up it stops your heart," he said.

Leckman believes with widespread vaccinations, the transmission of polio can be stopped in 2014.

"What greater gift could you give the world and the children of the world? I can't think of one," he said.

According to Leckman, $7 million in vaccines is still needed for this year alone to help eradicate polio.

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Devon Dolan

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