Polio. Cases of Heine-Medin disease in Ukraine. Professor Włodzimierz Gut on the role of vaccination against polio and the risk of disease in Poland

Recently, the infectious disease of polio in several children was confirmed in Ukraine. Professor Włodzimierz Gut, a virologist, estimated that if we neglect vaccinations against this disease, “polio from Ukraine may also threaten Poland”. He also explained how polio vaccines work and talked about the risk of paralysis after infection.

Professor Włodzimierz Gut, a virologist who was part of the team implementing the WHO viral disease elimination program, commented in an interview with the Polish Press Agency about the recent cases of polio cases of several children in Ukraine, also known as Heine-Medin disease.

In his opinion, “if we neglect vaccination, polio from Ukraine may also threaten Poland.”


As he explained, Ukraine has a big problem because not all children there are vaccinated against polioviruses. – Until about ten years ago, some 20 percent of the population were vaccinated against polio, later they made up sharply, but so far we have managed to vaccinate perhaps 50 percent of the population – said prof. Gut.

Professor Gut on when the virus “can regain its virulence”

According to the expert, the polio that attacks children in Ukraine at the moment is different from the one that mankind has fought against before. The wild-type eradication of this virus, i.e. complete eradication, was announced in 2015. – It was a great success in terms of eliminating smallpox. Now, the smallpox virus is present in only two laboratories in the world – reminded prof. Gut.

Today we are dealing with a strain that has grown out of vaccines when a live but weakened virus was still being used to produce them. – Attenuated or weakened viruses are not dangerous to humans, they are not able to cause disease. But when such a virus passes through, it can regain its virulence over time, the doctor explained.

The mechanism of passage is that when the previously harmless virus spreads – usually by the intestinal route – to an unvaccinated person and from there to the next and the next, it changes and one of the following versions regains the ability to infect and cause disease.

Virologist: If we don’t vaccinate children, polio could come back

Due to this threat, at some point patients began to receive vaccines containing dead viruses, which, however, also has its downsides. – Vaccination with a preparation with killed virus does not immunize against the intestinal version of poliomyelitis (polio – ed.), But only against infection of the nervous system – emphasized the virologist. He added that only a live pathogen vaccine can prevent the intestines from being infected with the virus.

A person who has taken the preparation with the killed virus, if he becomes infected with the vaccine strain, will not have symptoms, but the pathogen will multiply in his digestive system and return to the environment along with the faeces.

– So if we do not vaccinate our children, polio, over which we trounced just a few years ago, may come back and wreak havoc again – warned Prof. Gut. He stressed that “statistically one in 200 infected people will be paralyzed.”

He recalled how the COVID-19 epidemic began. – I do not think anyone needs to be explained how dangerous a virus is due to its volatility – said prof. Gut.

What is polio?

The poliovirus is usually transmitted by direct contact – mainly by food or, to a lesser extent, by airborne droplets. It usually affects children under five. It can cause nerve damage manifested by paresis or paralysis of the muscles. In some cases, the infectious polio disease caused by it, also known as Heine-Medin disease, can be fatal.

Polio in Ukraine

In early October, the Ministry of Health of Ukraine announced the confirmation of polio paralysis in a one-and-a-half-year-old child in the Rivne region. The first symptoms were observed in the child on September 1, and on September 3 the patient was hospitalized with symptoms of paralysis of the lower limbs.

The ministry said that the child’s parents had deliberately refrained from vaccinating the child, citing religious reasons. The ministry said the level of polio immunization among children under one year of age in the country is insufficient this year. For the first eight months, it was 53 percent. It was reported that at such a pace it would not be possible to achieve the 95 percent required for herd immunity by the end of the year. It was also ensured that the country has a sufficient number of vaccines purchased with state funds.

The BBC Ukraine portal recalled that previously, polio detection in Ukraine was reported in 2015. Then the disease was confirmed in two children in the Zakarpattia Oblast. In order to avoid the spread of the disease, the so-called zero-stage polio vaccination for children up to five years of age, regardless of whether they have been previously vaccinated. The next steps will take place over the next 90 days. Unvaccinated children will not be allowed to participate in classroom activities.

On Wednesday, the Ukrainian editorial office of the BBC reported that polio was detected in five other children in Ukrainian Transcarpathia. Neither of them were vaccinated.

Main photo source: Shutterstock

About Peter Wilson

In love with technology, with an eye towards smartphones, he does not disdain any activity linked to the Nerd world. TV series, movies, manga, anime, and comics (Marvel addicted) are the order of the day.

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