Health authorities raise guard against polio virus

Outbreak in Syria and decline in polio vaccinations may have left Denmark vulnerable to the crippling virus

Danes should be on heightened alert about a possible outbreak of the polio virus, according to the national association of polio and accident victims (PKU). 

"We want authorities to step in and make sewage controls and more campaigns to remind parents that their children should get a polio vaccine," the head of PKU, Holger Kallehauge, told DR Nyheder.

While there hasn't been a case of polio in Denmark since 1983, Denmark has lately received refugees from Syria, where at least 13 cases of polio were reported last fall.

At the same time, fewer parents are giving their children the vaccine because the risk of getting infected has been so low for years.

"That makes the risk of getting infected higher than before," Kallehauge said. "A health minister in Denmark should not live with such a risk and neither should the population."

May do a sewage test
National health agency Sundhedsstyrelsen is alert to a possible outbreak, said the head of the agency's hospital services and emergency division Søren Brostrøm.

"After the outbreaks in Syria, we have contacted the city councils and asylum centres," Brostrøm told DR Nyheder. "We also wrote doctors across the nation to make them aware of the situation. So I would definitely say we have increased focus."

Health Minister Astrid Krag (S) said that while Denmark is generally well-protected against a polio outbreak she will also follow the developments closely.

"That's also why we are considering testing sewage water for polio – but only if the results we get are worth the costs of the procedure," she told DR Nyheder.

Poliomyelitis, or infantile paralysis, causes paralysis of muscles in the back, arms and legs. Today the virus is only endemic in Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan and the Syrian outbreak may be traced to one of these countries.

A vaccination rate of 90 percent led WHO to downgrade Denmark from being a low-risk country to being medium-risk country in May 2013. In a low-risk country around 95 percent of the population must be vaccinated, DR Nyheder reports.