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Am J Epidemiol. 2010 Dec 1;172(11):1213-29. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwq320. Epub 2010 Oct 26.

From emergence to eradication: the epidemiology of poliomyelitis deconstructed.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology, School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6021, USA.


Poliomyelitis has appeared in epidemic form, become endemic on a global scale, and been reduced to near-elimination, all within the span of documented medical history. Epidemics of the disease appeared in the late 19th century in many European countries and North America, following which polio became a global disease with annual epidemics. During the period of its epidemicity, 1900-1950, the age distribution of poliomyelitis cases increased gradually. Beginning in 1955, the creation of poliovirus vaccines led to a stepwise reduction in poliomyelitis, culminating in the unpredicted elimination of wild polioviruses in the United States by 1972. Global expansion of polio immunization resulted in a reduction of paralytic disease from an estimated annual prevaccine level of at least 600,000 cases to fewer than 1,000 cases in 2000. Indigenous wild type 2 poliovirus was eradicated in 1999, but unbroken localized circulation of poliovirus types 1 and 3 continues in 4 countries in Asia and Africa. Current challenges to the final eradication of paralytic poliomyelitis include the continued transmission of wild polioviruses in endemic reservoirs, reinfection of polio-free areas, outbreaks due to circulating vaccine-derived polioviruses, and persistent excretion of vaccine-derived poliovirus by a few vaccinees with B-cell immunodeficiencies. Beyond the current efforts to eradicate the last remaining wild polioviruses, global eradication efforts must safely navigate through an unprecedented series of endgame challenges to assure the permanent cessation of all human poliovirus infections.

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