Polio does not only affect children, even if it was first recognized as a disease primarily afflicting the young. In the 60s, the disease was widespread throughout the world, with many having contracted the virus before they’d turned five. In 1962, Germany launched the campaign “oral vaccination is sweet – polio is cruel.” Since then, children have been comprehensively vaccinated in Germany.
How is polio spread?
The disease is spread through the polio virus. This usually happens through fecal-oral contact infection. The virus, excreted in the feces, travels from the hands (or in food and water) via the mouth and into the body. It then enters the gastrointestinal tract, and from there the blood vessels and eventually into nerve cells. Even the smallest drop of saliva can transmit polio – through the mouth or nose, for example. Polio is highly contagious.
Which countries are affected?
The WHO (World Health Organisatino) set itself a goal of eradicating the disease by the year 2018. Currently, the infectious disease is only present in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are no nationwide vaccination programs in these countries, so the virus can easily spread. Since 1994, the entire American continent has been free of polio; since 2000, the Western Pacific region has also been polio-free. The WHO declared the European region polio-free in June 2002.