A strain of polio circulating in parts of Africa appears almost identical to one that has reached Indonesia, raising the prospect that a...
JAKARTA, Indonesia — A strain of polio circulating in parts of Africa appears almost identical to one that has reached Indonesia, raising the prospect that a migrant worker may have brought it back to the Asian nation, the World Health Organization said yesterday.
Two cases of polio have been confirmed in Indonesia. However, the U.N. health agency said it is confident the isolated import will not result in a major outbreak in Indonesia because the country’s children are well protected by the polio vaccine and cases are quickly detected due to strong surveillance.
An 18-month-old girl in the West Java village of Girijaya was diagnosed with polio April 21, becoming the first Indonesian to contract the disease since 1995. Another seven children in her village have become paralyzed and are being treated as polio cases pending confirmation by test results. Experts think the cases all have the same source.
Authorities say the strain is genetically similar to one in Nigeria, where the disease spread rapidly after Muslims boycotted the vaccine in 2003 amid rumors of a U.S.-led plot to render them infertile or infect them with AIDS. Indonesia, with 241 million people, is the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
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Since the boycott, the virus has broken across Nigeria’s borders and sparked an outbreak in West and Central African countries.
The genetic tests tracing the Indonesian case to Nigeria are somewhat of a relief, WHO says.
“It validates that it’s an import and not a virus that has been lurking around Indonesia for 10 years and we haven’t caught,” said Sona Bari, a WHO spokeswoman.
Polio is a waterborne disease that usually infects young children, attacking the nervous system and causing paralysis, muscular atrophy, deformation and sometimes death.
Health officials are more worried about a recent cluster of cases in Yemen than about the cases in Indonesia, Bari added.
Only 69 percent of Yemen’s children are vaccinated and the country is close to the epicenter of the African outbreak. Four cases were confirmed in Yemen on April 20. Eighteen more cases have been confirmed in the past week, bringing the total there to 22. The Yemen strain has been genetically traced to Nigeria.
Global eradication efforts have reduced the number of polio cases from 350,000 a year in 1988 to 1,267 cases last year.
The disease is still endemic in six countries: Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Niger, Afghanistan and Egypt. Transmission has been re-established in another six countries: Ivory Coast, Chad, Central African Republic, Mali, Burkina Faso and Sudan.
Associated Press medical writer
Emma Ross contributed to this story from London.