Students write about a vaccine-derived polio outbreak

16 Oct

Last week we read a paper about an outbreak of vaccine-derived polio virus in Dominican Republic and Haiti in 2000 – 2001. Such outbreaks are uncommon, but they do happen. For me, this paper made clear that no vaccine is 100% safe. As an evolutionary biologist, I find it exciting that it may be possible to study how the attenuated virus evolves to become virulent again.

Here is some of the homework from the students in my class.

Make a graphical abstract of the paper


Cameron Soulette

What kind of data are used in the paper?

Most of the data used in this paper were viral isolates obtained from the stool samples of two patients in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. These were collected (presumably) by the authors because the patients were exhibiting signs of Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP). Individuals can have nonpolio AFP, but these two patients were exhibiting characteristics that led the authors to believe their AFP was caused by wild poliovirus, of which very few infections had been observed since the 1980’s.

Nucleic acid probe hybridization identified Vaccine-Derived Polio Virus (VDPV) in these samples. They then performed a sequence characterization of the major capsid surface protein VP1 and compared the isolates from samples to wild-type. The authors looked for more polio cases in the area, and obtained 31 more samples from which they isolated VDPV. They used bioinformatic approaches to analyze their data, including maximum-likelihood and neighbor-joining trees. Using these methods they were able to figure out the timeline for this outbreak of the virus.

Jennifer Gilbert

How much impact did this paper have?

According to Google scholar, this paper has been cited 441 times with the most recent being this year. I found two articles about the paper: one from the Telegraph and the other was a story from Reuters Health (I could not find the original article, but I found it on two separate forums). I think this paper is very influential, but it also has the potential to be used in ways that the authors did not intend. The paper emphasizes the need for continued vaccination and increased surveillance to further the effort of poliomyelitis eradication. However, it seems that this paper has also been picked up as fodder for those in the anti-vaccination movement (one of the forums was hosted by a group called The American Iatrogenic Association – a group focused on raising awareness for illness/ injury caused by physicians).

Links to articles:

Bradley Bowser

2 Responses to “Students write about a vaccine-derived polio outbreak”


  1. A reading seminar where every student reads, writes and contributes to the discussion in class | Being A Better Scientist - January 16, 2015

    […] students, but others liked it just because it was so different from their usual work (see here and here). The ”devil’s advocate” writing assignment was always very interesting to […]

  2. 15 papers on contemporary evolution in human viruses | Being A Better Scientist - June 1, 2015

    […] students’ work can be read and seen here (about H1N5), here (polio outbreak), here (Dengue), here (Ebola), here (HIV in court), here (doing my own […]

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