Polio, the crippling virus driven to the brink of extinction, may return to Europe as regional conflicts undermine a $10 billion eradication campaign.
Polio’s re-appearance in Syria last month after a 14 year absence raises the risk that the virus will hitch a ride on unsuspecting refugees fleeing the country and return to areas, including Europe, that have been polio-free for decades, according to a letter published in the The Lancet medical journal today.
“Polio is making a comeback,” Martin Eichner, a professor at the University of Tuebingen who co-authored the letter to The Lancet, said by phone today.
Eichner and a German colleague warned that the vaccine used in the U.S. and Europe offers only partial protection against infection and called for heightened screening of sewage systems near refugee settlements in Turkey and Jordan. Syrian war refugees, moreover, have begun arriving in Western Europe, including Sweden and Germany.