Polio has been found among young children in northeast Syria according to the World Health Organisation.
The outbreak has affected at least 10 victims, most of them under two years old, who have been diagnosed with polio type 1, a highly infectious viral disease and can cause irreversible paralysis. There is no known cure and the virus is only preventable through a series of vaccines given over the course of the child’s life.
Poor sanitary conditions for refugees are thought to be behind a previous outbreak in Syria in 1999.
At a press conference on the issue, WHO spokesman Oliver Rosenbauer said:
“This is a communicable disease. With population movements it can travel to other areas. So the risk is high for (its) spread across the region.”
Around one million people are thought to have fled the fighting between troops loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and rebel forces. Aid organisations are struggling to cope in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.
Around half the refugees are children under 11. With basic medical care thin on the ground, there is a real fear that polio could spread rapidly.