Rare strain of polio resurfaces in Burma

A mass vaccination campaign is underway across Burma after reports surfaced of young children contracting a rare strain of the polio virus.

The vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV) hadn’t been seen in Burma for three years, until in December last year a seven-year-old girl fell ill and was diagnosed by health officials, the UN-run Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reported.

Two more have since been reported, although they are yet to be diagnosed. “But one case is enough [to require] an emergency response,” Marinus Gotink, UNICEF’s chief of health and nutrition in Burma, told IRIN.

According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI), this particular strain can come as a result of the continued reintroduction into human populations of polioviruses that are contained in the oral polio vaccine.

Burma is currently not one of the listed countries where polio is prevalent, although in neighbouring India it is considered endemic. It originally declared itself polio-free in 2003, but that was revoked three years later when a case was diagnosed in Mandalay division. In 2007, 15 cases were confirmed, four of which were VDPV, but then the disease went quiet, only resurfacing in December 2010.

In early 2009, UNICEF, along with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Burmese health ministry, announced that it would immunise 7.4 million children below five, the age-group most at risk of polio.

And following December’s diagnosis, UNICEF said it would be launching a campaign to target 3.34 million children in 109 of the country’s 325 townships.

Polio, once rampant across Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand, enters the body through the mouth, before invading the nervous system. One in 200 cases can result in total paralysis, often occurring within hours of being contracted.

PEI says that the disease remains endemic in four countries: India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. The 2007 outbreak in Burma resulted from the spread of the disease from Bangladesh, which in turn had acquired it from India.

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