WHO warns of polio outbreak after 2 cases confirmed in Ukraine

© Igor Zarembo
The World Health Organization has confirmed two cases of poliomyelitis in Ukraine, the first in Europe since 2010, warning of a potential outbreak due to low vaccination coverage. However, local authorities claim that the two children could have been paralyzed due to a different disease.

A 10-month-old baby and a four-year-old boy from Ukraine’s southwestern Zakarpatskaya region have been paralyzed in a first recorded case of polio in Europe in half a decade, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement on Tuesday. 

“It's the first polio case in Europe since 2010,” WHO spokesman Oliver Rosenbauer told AFP.

“The Ukrainian outbreak counting two cases in two children from the Zakarpattya region to date is due to circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV) type 1,” said WHO spokeswoman Cristiana Salvi. “This means that because of low vaccination coverage, this strain was allowed to circulate in a community as it continued to find susceptible individuals.”

While the last case of polio in Ukraine was officially recorded in 1996, the vaccination coverage is “inadequate”, according to the WHO, which estimated that only half of Ukrainian children were properly vaccinated last year.

The region in which the cases were found borders Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland. The WHO suggested that the risk of international spread from Ukraine is “low”. Yet, “the risk of further spread of this strain within the country is deemed to be high,” according to the organization.

READ MORE: Polio epidemic fears as Ukraine’s vaccine stockpiles dry up

Meanwhile, local authorities have denied a definitive diagnosis of polio, saying that it “was not confirmed” by medical trials in Kiev and Moscow. Regional officials told Ukrainian media the symptoms only “resembled” polio, but it could in fact be acute flaccid paralysis, recorded in the region up to five times on a yearly basis

A highly infectious and sometimes lethal disease, polio usually affects children under the age of five. One in 200 infections causes irreversible paralysis, and as the virus affects nervous system, it can paralyze a person within a matter of hours.