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Bill Gates expresses alarm over reemergence of polio in the US after nine years

The first case of polio in the United States in nine years sets off alarms in the country. The disease can cause paralysis and lead to death.

Update:
The first case of polio in the United States in nine years sets off alarms in the country. The disease can cause paralysis and lead to death.
ARND WIEGMANNREUTERS

For the past two years, the coronavirus pandemic has dominated the front pages of the media, been the focus of numerous conversations, and affected almost everyone’s daily life in one way or another.

But Bill Gates, billionaire founder of Microsoft, had long been giving warnings about another disease which has now reemerged in the U.S: polio.

Gates has been trying to eradicate this disease from the world for some time. Through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the philanthropist has invested in small parts of Africa to eliminate polio completely. However, this week the alarms have gone off after a case of poliomyelitis was registered in the United States.

Polio is a viral disease that can affect the spinal cord, causing muscle weakness and paralysis, which can lead to permanent disability and death. It enters the body through the mouth, usually when taking food or water that has been contaminated with the feces of an infected person. Although it is more common in infants and young children, paralysis occurs more often in older people.

First U.S. case in almost a decade

A resident of Rockland County (50 kilometers from Manhattan) was infected by someone who had received a polio vaccine that is no longer used in the United States, according to a statement from the New York State Department of Health. It is the first reported case in the country in nine years.

The sequencing “showed Sabin virus type 2 reverse polio. This is indicative of a chain of transmission from an individual who received the oral polio vaccine (OPV), which is no longer licensed or administered in the US, where only inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) has been administered since 2000. The virus may have originated in a place outside the US where OPV is administered, as revertant strains cannot arise from inactivated vaccines,” the statement said.

The State Health Department has launched efforts to detect signs of the virus, and after an analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the polio virus was found in wastewater samples from the Rockland County. The department has emphasized the importance of vaccinating people who live in New York, particularly children, to protect against the disease.

“Polio is a dangerous disease with potentially devastating consequences,” according to State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. 

“In the United States, we are so fortunate to have available the crucial protection offered through polio vaccination, which has safeguarded our country and New Yorkers for over 60 years. Given how quickly polio can spread, now is the time for every adult, parent, and guardian to get themselves and their children vaccinated as soon as possible.”

Gates’ reminder on polio threat

Gates has already spoken out on social networks about the case, and has called for the disease to be completely eradicated so that it ceases to be a threat. “From Malawi to the United States, new polio cases are a reminder that until we eradicate polio, it remains a threat to all of us.”

In April 2013 Gates made a huge capital injection to wipe out the disease. His foundation contributed 1.8 billion dollars to the campaign called the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI).

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