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Republic of Congo copes with deadly polio outbreak

From Salma Abdelaziz, CNN
  • At least 85 are dead
  • Vaccinations will start soon
  • World agencies are helping the nation

(CNN) -- Scores of people in the Republic of Congo have died in a polio outbreak, and health providers are gearing up to thwart the flare-up, the United Nations' health agency said Wednesday.

The World Health Organization said 85 deaths have been reported in and around Pointe Noire, on the coast of the west-central African nation, which neighbors the Democratic Republic of Congo. Those deaths are among 184 reported cases.

"The cases are continuing to rise. The government has declared this an emergency and the Ministry of Health is launching a vaccination campaign starting Friday," said Sona Bari, a spokeswoman for WHO's polio eradication agency.

"The overwhelming priority right now is to vaccinate people to prevent further death and disability," she said.

WHO said the majority of the reported cases and deaths have occurred among people more than 15 years of age.

Scientists link the cases to a polio virus circulating in nearby Angola.

The government has issued alerts about the outbreak to the public and has started an emergency response with help from WHO, the U.N. children's agency, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.