August 22, 2013 -- Public health advocates have long set their sights on wiping out polio worldwide, but recent resurgences of the pernicious disease raise questions about its future eradication.
Several months ago a wild strain of the virus surfaced in a sewer system in Rahat in southern Israel, and now it has reportedly been detected throughout the country. Israel’s government this week launched a nationwide vaccination campaign, attempting to inoculate all children under nine years of age with oral polio vaccine (OPV), a form of the vaccine containing a live, weakened form of the virus. Most of these children were already vaccinated as babies with inactivated polio vaccine (IPV), otherwise known as the dead-virus vaccine. But people who were injected with IPV can still be healthy carriers of the disease and shed the virus in feces.
Scientific American spoke with Bruce Aylward, assistant director general for Polio, Emergencies and Country Collaboration at the World Health Organization, to find out more about the situation in Israel and how recent events there are affecting global efforts to wipe out the disease.
[An edited transcript of the interview follows.]
What is happening in Israel right now?
What we know is that there is widespread detection of a wild polio virus at a number of sites that we have sampled, going back three-plus months. This virus is very similar to a strain that was detected in December of last year in Egypt, in the sewage there. This original virus came from Pakistan. Whether it went into Egypt and then Israel or Israel and then Egypt or [whether it spread via] two separate importations—it is unclear.
Read the rest of the interview here.