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    Return Of Polio Virus Is An Urgent Reminder On How To Prevent A Crisis

    Commentary From Crisis Management Expert Edward Segal, Bestselling Author of the Award- Winning Book “Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies” (Nicholas Brealey)

    Some crises strike suddenly and without warning, while others can be seen as soon as they appear over the horizon.

    Polio’s recent return to the U.S. and U.K. is the rare crisis that falls into both categories, as evidenced by these headlines on Forbes in the past four months:

    Polio Spread Detected In London Sewage For First Time In Decades (June 23)

    First U.S. Polio Case In Nearly A Decade Reported In New York (July 21)

    Poliovirus Identified In New York City Sewage, Health Officials Say (August 12)

    ‘Very Tip Of The Iceberg’

    “A polio case identified in New York last month is ‘just the very, very tip of the iceberg’ and an indication there ‘must be several hundred cases in the community circulating,’ [according to] a senior official with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” CNN reported in August.

    Polio is also an example of a crisis that can be prevented—or at the very least minimized—thanks to the availability of the polio vaccine. Unfortunately, vaccination rates in some places fall short of ensuring the permanent eradication of the disease.

    “Polio is a very serious virus that can have lifelong devastating effects. There are still a handful of people living in an iron lung today because of polio they caught decades ago,” Dr. Laura Purdy observed via email.

    Crisis Prevention And Mitigation

    For corporate executives, the unfolding situation in New York and London are urgent reminders to take all appropriate steps now to help manage, prevent or mitigate a crisis at their companies or organizations. The best practices include:

    • Identifying and addressing potential crisis triggers
    • Creating or updating crisis management plans
    • Periodically testing the plans against different crisis scenarios to ensure they will work when needed
    • Appointing crisis management teams before there is a crisis
    • Ensuring they have all the resources they will need to effectively respond to any crisis

    Government officials appear to be responding to the return of the polio virus as best they can.

    “Public health authorities are handling the situation appropriately. There is full transparency regarding the unfolding events,” Dr. Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, a public health expert who is CEO of Dr. Nesochi LLC, said via email.

    Advocating For Vaccinations

    “As epidemiological investigation continues, the general public has been informed about the best means to stay protected from polio (i.e., vaccinations). Public health officials and the medical community will continue to advocate for vaccinations and advise that all individuals remain up to date with their polio vaccine series,” she noted.

    CDC Now Considering Options

    The CDC “is considering a variety of options to protect people from polio, including offering children in the area an extra shot of the vaccine, as UK health authorities are doing now in London, or recommending extra doses to certain groups of adults,” Dr. José Romero, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases told CNN.

    “We’re looking into all aspects of how to deal with this. At this point, we don’t have a definitive answer,” he said.

    1955 Vaccine Dramatically Reduced Infections

    “Polio was at one time among the most dangerous diseases in the U.S. and caused more than 15,000 cases of paralysis annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control,” Forbes reported.

    “A vaccine was introduced in 1955 and slashed infections dramatically. Because of widespread vaccination, there is no longer year-round transmission of the virus that causes the disease, according to the CDC. No known polio cases have originated in the U.S. since 1979, but infected travelers have brought the virus into the country since then, most recently in 2013,” according to Forbes.


    Edward Segal is a crisis management expert, consultant and the bestselling author of the award-winning Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies (Nicholas Brealey). Click here to Order the book.

    Segal is a Leadership Strategy Senior Contributor for where he covers crisis-related news, topics and issues. Click here to read his recent articles.