Surveillance of acute flaccid paralysis in Italy: 1996–1997

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The last case of poliomyelitis due to transmission of indigenous wild poliovirus occurred in Italy in 1982. To achieve the certification of the eradication of poliomyelitis in Italy, an active surveillance of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) in the population aged less than 15 years was set up following the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. The survey started in 1996 with a pilot study involving 4 out of 21 regions, and was gradually extended to a national level in 1997. The two-year survey identified five patients with diagnosis of vaccine associated paralytic poliomyelitis (VAPP). Polioviruses type 2 and 3 Sabin-like were isolated and characterized in three of them. In the remaining two cases, samples were collected late after the onset of symptoms, and poliovirus could not be isolated. No wild polioviruses were detected during the survey. The rate of non-polio AFP found in Italy in 1997 was 0.61 cases per 100,000, which is lower than the level of 1.0 case per 100,000 considered as acceptable by the WHO. This was mainly due to the delay in organizing the hospital network and starting the active search of AFP cases in the largest and most densely populated regions. Therefore, the overall rate of AFP found in Italy underestimates the global effectiveness of the program, which however will be better evaluated in the next few years. This study is the first systematic attempt to determine the rate of AFP in Italy.

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