Jonas Salk introduced the polio vaccine to the world in the year 1955 offering complete immunization against a virus that had previously affected over 35,000 people in United States alone every year. By the year 2013, only 416 cases of Poliomyelitis were reported globally and this was achieved with the remarkable efforts of health organizations and Polio immunization teams. When the world thought it was on the brink of permanently eradicating the disease, a massive Polio outbreak occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the year 2010, claiming the lives of 47% of all people that it affected.
Polio virus spreads via contact with an infected person’s feces, and this is frequent in areas with overpopulation, lack of hygiene and sanitation policies and limited access to clean water. It was assumed that the fatalities resulted from low immunization efforts but later, with various researches and surveys, it was concluded that the vaccination rates had been sufficient and satisfactory in the region prior to the outbreak.
Researchers studying the Polio virus earlier this year discovered that mutated strains of the virus exist. The details of the strain and how it was found to be similar to another mutant strain discovered in Angola in the year 2009 were compiled in a paper authored by Jan Felix Drexler, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Scientists have finally managed to crack the code behind the devastation caused by the Polio virus in Congo; the viral strain that affected people of that region is naturally resistant to immunization vaccines. Two mutations were noticed in the capsid covering of the strain that allowed the virus to remain immune to the body’s antibodies.
A study was recently conducted whereby blood samples were taken from 60 different volunteers in Germany and Gabon, who has been vaccinated against Polio. It yielded some troubling results because researches noted that the antibodies failed to act against the mutant Polio strain that killed hundreds of people in Congo. It was therefore concluded that up to 30% of the previously vaccinated volunteers would have contracted the disease if exposed to the mutant strain of the virus.
Following the results of the study, Drexler’s team encouraged health authorities and officials to remain vigilant because the possibility of other mutant strains exists. When exposed to the mutant strains, individuals that have already been vaccinated against Polio can still get infected.
The Polio endemic as of now only exists in three countries; Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. However, there is always a possibility of the disease occurring in other countries, especially after the recent outbreaks in Tajikistan, China and the 2010 Congo outbreak. The fact that a viral stain that remains unaffected by antibodies and immunization drugs has been discovered is rather unsettling news. The strain poses threat to thousands of lives across the globe and measures should be taken by health authorities to produce useful research in the matter.