Polio apparently reached Mecca, Islam's holy city, just before last month's annual pilgrimage by two million Muslims, and World Health Organization officials now fear that it could be spreading around the world, carried by returning pilgrims.
In crowded nations with spotty vaccination coverage, like Bangladesh and Indonesia, "there could be substantial consequences," Dr. Bruce Aylward, coordinator of the W.H.O.'s Global Polio Eradication Initiative in Geneva, said in an interview.
"This is a crucial point," he added. "We're staring at the whites of the eyes of this thing."
A Saudi government spokesman said his country had feared the arrival of polio this year because it was known to be spreading across Africa. The Saudis started a sweeping polio inoculation campaign in September, hoping to head off the threat before the height of the hajj, or pilgrimage, in late January.
Saudi Arabia had been polio-free since 1995, but two cases were found there late last year. The first, confirmed in late December, was in the port city of Jeddah in a girl who became paralyzed on Nov. 6, just after arriving from Sudan. The second, more worrisome case, became known today, Dr. Aylward said. It was discovered in a 5-year-old Nigerian boy who developed paralysis on Dec. 15. What made it more troubling was that his family had lived for several years in an illegal encampment on the outskirts of Mecca, so he must have caught it in Saudi Arabia.
So, I guess as long as everybody on the planes I use washes their hands, and all the people who prepare the food wash their hands, ....