For Release: March 21, 2007 5 P.M. (ET)
Contact: DMS Communications 603-650-1492

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Infectious Disease Pediatrician Urges Readiness for Virus Threat

HANOVER, NH—Reinforcing the need to be better prepared against global epidemics, a Dartmouth Medical School virologist calls for adding a distant relative of polioviruses that is responsible for widespread disease outbreaks in Asia and elsewhere to the list of threatening emerging infections.

John Modlin
John Modlin, M.D.

In a perspective published in the March 22 New England Journal of Medicine , Dr. John Modlin, professor and chairman of pediatrics, proposes developing a plan to respond to outbreaks of enterovirus 71, a common cause of hand, foot, and mouth disease and encephalitis. His comments relate to a study published in the same issue that documented serious polio-like effects in some children after an epidemic of the virus in Taiwan.

Enterovirus 71 was first isolated from a child with encephalitis in California, but large-scale outbreaks have been more prevalent in southern Asia and eastern Europe. In rare cases, the virus can infect the nervous system with debilitating consequences. The recent study found developmental and learning delays in some children with the nervous system involvement.

The virus has features that are "strikingly similar to those of poliomyelitis," wrote Modlin, an expert in polioviruses. "The recent experience with enterovirus 71 epidemic disease also invokes a sense of deja vu for those familiar with the history of poliomyelitis." He noted that "a few enigmatic outbreaks of paralytic polio" in diverse regions 100 a years ago gradually grew into major epidemics in North American and European cities until the arrival of polio vaccines.

"If history is any guide, it would also be foolish not to be better prepared than we are now. It would be prudent to add enterovirus 71 to the list of emerging infections that threaten us, develop a plan to respond to an outbreak, and take the first steps toward developing a vaccine."


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