WHO Polio Warning Worries Survivor: "Virus Is Still Out There"

Warning from WHO about the potential for a resurgence of polio worries California survivor, former Shriners poster child

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    NBC 7
    Rick Kneeshaw can't remember a time when he didn't have polio. Now, he educates others about the virus.

    A warning issued by the World Health Organization about the resurgence of polio concerns a California survivor of the virus, a man who was once the Shriners' national poster child.

    On Monday, the WHO issued its first alert about polio, saying cases surfacing in at least 10 countries should be considered an international public health emergency.

    The number of cases could grow over warmer months and may threatened the eradication efforts, the organization warned.

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    Rick Kneeshaw of Scripps Ranch, California contracted polio in 1950 when he was just over three years old.

    "I can't remember not having had polio," Kneeshaw said. "I cannot remember ever having walked without braces or crutches." 

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    Polio usually strikes children under 5 and is most often spread through infected water. Kneeshaw said his doctors believe he got the virus from San Diego Bay.

    The national poster child for the Shriners in 1953, Kneeshaw's photo was in mailboxes all across the U.S.

    Now, as one of 600 polio survivors in Southern California, Kneeshaw uses his experience and knowledge to educate others. He regularly talks to rotary members, schools and medical students.

    He said it's concerning that people are forgetting about polio.

    "The virus is still out there," Kneeshaw said.

    "It's not completely wiped out in this country but it's not talked about much either," he said.

    In the first four months of 2014, there were 68 confirmed polio cases worldwide, compared with just 24 in the same period last year.

    WHO described current polio outbreaks across at least 10 countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East as an "extraordinary event" that required a coordinated international response.

    It identified Pakistan, Syria and Cameroon as having allowed the virus to spread beyond their borders.

    WHO asked those three governments to require citizens obtain a certificate proving they have been vaccinated for polio before traveling abroad.

    Pakistan scrambled Tuesday to meet the new international travel restrictions, including setting up vaccination points at all airports, officials said.

    Some critics say it may even be time to accept that polio may not be eradicated, despite the approximate $1 billion a year spent on the effort.

    Rotary has worked since 1985 to eradicate polio. At the time the project was identified, there were 145 countries with reported polio cases.

    As of 2013, there were only three countries with reported polio cases.

    “It’s very disturbing,” said Charles Pretto, President of San Diego Rotary of the report that polio is seeing a resurgence.

    “It just means we have to double down our efforts to try and eradicate polio from the world.”

    The San Diego Rotary committed $50,000 to the national organization’s efforts. An estimated $35 million was collected by members across the U.S . according to Pretto.

    If10 new countries are reporting new polio cases, Pretto said it's likely Rotary will increase efforts to battle the spread of the virus.

    Kneeshaw said the disease can be very debilitating and he hopes people will listen to his advice, and get their children vaccinated.

    The San Diego Immunization Program recommends every child be vaccinated against Polio (IPV Vaccine) prior to age six.