Polio scare: Malaysia begins vaccination campaign as first case in 27 years reported

Malaysia’s Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad speaks during a news conference in Putrajaya, on Dec 9, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR (ASSOCIATED PRESS) - Malaysia began a vaccination campaign in a rural town on Borneo island after a three-month-old boy was confirmed to have polio in the country's first case of the highly infectious virus in 27 years.

The infant from Tuaran town in Sabah state tested positive for polio last Friday (Dec 6) after he was hospitalised with fever and muscle weakness. He is on respiratory support but his condition is stable, Health Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a statement on Sunday.

Malaysia is the second Asian country to have reported a polio case after an outbreak in the Philippines in September.

The World Health Organisation says polio, which has been largely eradicated, remains endemic in only Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Dr Noor Hisham said tests showed the baby's strain had genetic links to the polio virus detected in the Philippines.

Malaysia's last polio case occurred in 1992 and the country was declared polio-free in 2000.

The health ministry said the strain originated from a weakened virus contained in oral polio vaccine that was excreted from the body through faeces and believed to have spread in an unsanitary environment to those who haven't been immunised.

Dr Noor Hisham said immunisation will be stepped up after an investigation in the infant's home village showed that 23 out of 199 children, aged between two months and 15 years, were not vaccinated against polio.

Health officers are also bolstering surveillance to detect those who show symptoms of muscle paralysis, a symptom of polio, though none have been detected so far, he said.

There is no known cure for polio, which can only be prevented with vaccines.

"To ensure that the polio virus does not continue to spread in Malaysia and infect those who are not immunised, polio vaccinations will be given in the residential area of the reported case and expanded to other risk areas," Dr Noor Hisham added.

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