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Polio Reappears in Indonesia Prompting Mass Vaccination Campaign


Dr. Jonathan D. Salk, left, son of Dr. Jonas Salk, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, granddaughter of President Roosevelt and Benjamin C. Bradlee, former editor of the Washington Post and a child polio patient, talk about the polio virus
A case of polio has been found in Indonesia, leading to fears that an outbreak that began in Africa has crossed to Southeast Asia. This is the first case of a so-called wild-virus polio infection in the country in a decade.

World Health Organization experts confirmed Tuesday that an 18-month-old child in West Java has contracted polio and they warn that several suspected cases in the area are likely to be confirmed as polio over the next several days.

Dr. Brent Burkholder is the WHO advisor on immunization programs for Southeast Asia. He says the Indonesian government mobilized quickly to contain the spread of the virus. "About 4,000 children in the immediate villages around the case have already been vaccinated,” he said. “There are plans now under way to do a much more extensive vaccination campaign, covering about 5.2 million children in three provinces of western Indonesia there."

Polio is a water-borne virus that primarily attacks children. It is deadly to many patients and it leaves others partially or completely paralyzed. Dr. Burkholder says that while Indonesia has a good record of immunizing against polio, with 90 percent of the population covered, there are still isolated areas where immunization rates are low. The infected toddler had not been immunized. This is the first case of what is known as a wild-virus polio infection in Indonesia in a decade.

However, WHO records show that several dozen patients in Indonesia developed polio after being vaccinated against the disease in the late 1990's. Such vaccine-related cases are relatively rare, but are not considered unusual. Since 2001, Indonesia has recorded no polio infections at all. The virus found in the Indonesian case closely matches samples collected in an outbreak in recent months in Saudi Arabia and Sudan. That virus apparently came originally from Nigeria, where many people boycotted immunization programs in 2003 and 2004.

The boycott was prompted by rumors that the vaccine would cause children to be infertile or that it would spread AIDS. The WHO says with the Indonesian case, 16 countries have had wild-virus outbreaks since 2003.

Last month, an outbreak was confirmed in Yemen. The WHO had aimed to halt the transmission of the virus worldwide by this year, but has fallen short of that goal. Still, the world reported less than 1,300 cases last year, down from more than 300,000 cases a year in the 1980's.

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