Between 1973 and 2013, 12 outbreaks of paralytic poliomyelitis with a cumulative total of 660 cases were reported in the European Union, European Economic Area and candidate countries. Outbreaks lasted seven to 90 weeks (median: 24 weeks) and were identified through the diagnosis of cases of acute flaccid paralysis, for which infection with wild poliovirus was subsequently identified. In two countries, environmental surveillance was in place before the outbreaks, but did not detect any wild strain before the occurrence of clinical cases. This surveillance nonetheless provided useful information to monitor the outbreaks and their geographical spread. Outbreaks were predominantly caused by poliovirus type 1 and typically involved unvaccinated or inadequately vaccinated groups within highly immunised communities. Oral polio vaccine was primarily used to respond to the outbreaks with catch-up campaigns implemented either nationwide or in restricted geographical areas or age groups. The introduction of supplementary immunisation contained the outbreaks. In 2002, the European region of the World Health Organization was declared polio-free and it has maintained this status since. However, as long as there are non-vaccinated or under-vaccinated groups in European countries and poliomyelitis is not eradicated, countries remain continuously at risk of reintroduction and establishment of the virus. Continued efforts to reach these groups are needed in order to ensure a uniform and high vaccination coverage.
Keywords: Outbreaks; Poliomyelitis; surveillance; vaccine-preventable diseases; vaccines and immunisation.