WHO confirms outbreak of polio in Syria

The World Health Organization confirmed on Tuesday that 10 individuals contracted polio in Syria and said health authorities in the country began a comprehensive response to the outbreak.

Oliver Rosenbauer, the communications officer for WHO, said that out of 22 reported cases of acute flaccid paralysis in Syria, 10 were confirmed as being the result of wild poliovirus type I. The remaining 12 cases are still under review.

The 22 people are children, mostly toddlers under the age of two. All the children appeared to be under-immunized or unimmunized. Rosenbauer said the children came down with fever and were later paralyzed.

The cases were first reported on October 17 in the Deir Al Zour province in Syria's northeast region. Syria was previously considered high-risk for vaccine-preventable diseases, though the country had not experienced a polio case since 1999.

Poliovirus enters the body through the mouth and multiplies in the intestine before attacking the nervous system. Polio is highly infectious and may cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. One in 200 infections causes irreversible paralysis. Five to 10 percent of paralyzed individuals die when their breathing muscles become immobilized.

Glenn Thomas, a WHO spokesperson, said that health authorities in Syria and neighboring countries have begun planning and implementing a comprehensive response to the outbreak.