Malaysia announces first case of polio in the country for 27 years

Grant Boone
December 9, 2019

A three-month-old Malaysian infant has been diagnosed with polio, the first case reported in the country in 27 years.

A three-month-old baby, originally from the city of Tuaran in Malaysia's Sabah state on Borneo island, was admitted to a hospital with symptoms of fever and muscle weakness on Friday, the ministry said.

"All of the poliomyelitis cases previously reported in Malaysia were cases of wild poliovirus (WPV) infection with the last case reported in 1992", he said. The World Health Organization said only 33 cases were reported worldwide past year.

"The patient is now being treated in an isolation ward and is in stable condition but still needs breathing assistance", said Abdullah in a statement. Tests confirmed that he was infected with vaccine-derived poliovirus type 1 (VDPV1). And the weakened virus can still appear in the feces of those who consume the vaccine but those who have been vaccinated are immune. This vaccine contains a live, attenuated (weakened) form of the virus. However, in unsanitary environments, the virus can infect others who have not been immunised against polio and will thus spread in communities whose polio immunisation rates are less than 95pc.

"As the virus spreads in the community, it will undergo genetic mutation until it once again becomes an active virus".

In the statement, he said that the strain of polio that the infant was afflicted with was genetically linked to the strain found in the Philippines.

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He said there were two possibilities how the polio virus, which had been eradicated 27 years ago, could reappear in the country - either the virus came from the Philippines or the infant's family had travelled overseas. "This is a frustrating situation because the spread of the disease... can only be stopped with polio immunisation". "After explaining the importance of polio immunisation, the parents of the children have agreed to have them vaccinated", he said.

Authorities have also increased the monitoring of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) cases, which is a common sign of acute polio.

"The VDPV1 detected in the child is not the result of the IPV vaccine", he said, adding that more than 80 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in Malaysia, with no VDPV cases reported.

"The provision of additional immunisation in the area where the case has been detected has been made and are being extended to high-risk areas to prevent it from spreading", he said in a statement here, today.

One suggestion to stop polio outbreaks would be to discontinue administering the live oral vaccine and switch to the not-live, injectable vaccine, now used in the USA.

Polio, or poliomyelitis, is a deadly infectious disease caused by the poliovirus, and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours by invading a person's brain and spinal cord. The disease has no cure and can only be prevented through vaccination.

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