Congo Republic facing massive polio outbreak

The Congo Republic is facing a massive polio outbreak, reporting 201 cases of paralysis in two weeks and 104 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

An emergency has been declared by the government in Brazzaville, the nation's capital, the New York Times reports. Plans have also been announced to vaccinate the nation's entire population with oral drops. The WHO, Unicef and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will aid in the vaccination program.

“We’ve got two hospitals with hundreds of paralyzed people and many dead,” Dr. Bruce Aylward, the WHO’s director of global polio eradication, told the New York Times in an interview from Geneva. “And a couple of things about this outbreak are different and deeply disturbing.”

In Pointe Noire, the port city that has seen the most concentrated number of cases, 85 percent of the cases are in teenagers and adults. Most of the victims are male and the death rate is much higher than normal, the New York Times reports.

Typically, young boys and girls are equally infected by polio, which kills no more than 20 percent of those it paralyzes on average.

Routine polio vaccinations did not begin in the central African region until the 1980s and then only focused on children under the age of five, leaving few adults protected.

The current Congo Republic strain has been caused by an Indian strain that first surfaced in Angola in 2007, the New York Times reports.