Even though EBOLA is splashed across the headlines, Dr. Brenner explained that POLIO is a much greater public health risk, as every ONE person stricken with polio is just the “tip of the iceberg” because where there is 1 case, that means there are 199 others “underneath” who are not yet symptomatic.
Polio was declared a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” (PHEIC) on May 5, 2014 by the World Health Organization (WHO)- only one of 3 ever declared and well before WHO declared Ebola a PHEIC – after Pakistan’s new polio outbreaks skyrocketed in 2014. Reportedly, Pakistani Taliban and other militants have waged a brutal campaign against polio vaccination teams, killing more than 50 health workers and security officials since 2012.
Adding intrigue, Dr. Brenner explained that these attacks began after it was discovered that one of the covert CIA initiatives to locate Osama Bin Laden was a door-to-door “hepatitis vaccination” campaign to gain information about his whereabouts. As has happened in Pakistan after recent militant attacks, officials are concerned that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan could result in increased terrorist attacks causing a mass exodus of unvaccinated residents to flee and spill over into and become a threat to previously polio-free countries.
But the United States isn’t “immune” to the threat. If the Ebola headlines have taught us anything, it’s that diseases are often just a plane ride away. With growing sentiment not to immunize in those generations who haven’t seen firsthand the debilitating and sometimes deadly diseases that vaccinations have wiped out in the U.S., the risk that polio could infect unvaccinated children in the U.S. is real.
Dr. Eric Brenner, M.D., is a public health physician and medical epidemiologist from the United States. He attended the University of California at Berkeley where he majored in French Literature (B.S. 1966) after which he worked as a teacher in West Africa in the Ivory Coast for two years. He then attended Dartmouth Medical School (M.D. 1973) and completed further clinical training in San Francisco and South Carolina, which led to Board Certification in Internal Medicine and Infectious Disease. He was worked at the state level with the S.C. Department Health; at the national level with the US CDC in Atlanta; and internationally with the World Health Organization (WHO) both in Geneva, Switzerland, and on short-term assignments in Europe, North America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. At the University of South Carolina he has taught several post-graduate level courses relating to Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the School of Public Health. He has numerous interests including vaccine for preventable diseases and other diseases of public health importance. (Courtesy: Eric Brenner)