First Case of Polio in Kenya in Twenty Years

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The most potent technology fighting infectious disease is our own immune system, and vaccination remains as the most effective way to protect an entire population. It pains me to read that polio has stricken a Somali refugee in Kenya for the first time in twenty years. Just days after the WHO announced that they're focusing on 4 remaining countries to try and eradicate polio via vaccination, new concerns arise that Kenya could be an upcoming area of concern.

The power of vaccination to prevent disease is rooted in the fact that if you immunize enough of a population, the people who remain unimmunized won't come in contact with another person with the disease since so few of them remain unimmunized and at risk of getting the disease. Herd immunity is the term physicians use to describe this pattern of protection. Herd, because if you immunize enough people, few people will be left without antibodies that protect them from disease, and the disease can't spread because there aren't enough unimmunized people in a population.

I'm worried that many of my local friends and parents here in the United States are finding the risks of immunization too high, and deferring or refusing immunization. They're right, there are very rare and serious side effects from some immunizations, but they're very rare. Part of participating as a citizen in a democracy is accepting that level of risk for the good of the entire citizenry. Ok, time to get off my pulpit and back to technology.

The risk is that in Somalia, religious leaders there accused western health agencies of attempting to sterilize their muslim population through vaccination. A large percentage of that population heeded their warnings, and an outbreak of polio occured. I'm praying that the near-religious level of conviction of local U.S. parents doesn't spread and allow a similar outbreak to occur here.
Many voted during the BMJ's (British Medical Journal) call for nominations last month of the top medical technology since 1940 as immunization, and I'd agree.

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About the Author


MD, FACP, FASN

Dr. Schwimmer's blog explores the intersection of medicine, new technologies, and the Internet.

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