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After almost 30 years, polio returns in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR: A three-month-old male infant from Tuaran, Sabah was reportedly diagnosed with polio after 27 years in Malaysia, according to the Health Ministry.

The baby had been admitted into intensive care after experiencing fever and muscle weakness, Health director-general, Datuk Dr. Noor Hisham Abdullah said. “The patient is currently undergoing treatment in an isolation ward and is in a stable condition but needs respiratory support,“ Noor Hisham said.

Polio is a highly infectious viral disease that has no cure and can only be prevented with several doses of oral and injectable vaccines. It affects the nervous system and spinal cord and can be fatal in rare cases.

The world has made great strides in the battle against polio for over three decades. According to the World Health Organisation, only 33 cases were reported worldwide last year.

In 2000, Malaysia was declared polio-free. The last case was reported back in 1992.

It was reported that the diagnosis comes after the Philippines was hit in September by its first polio case in nearly two decades.

Test results showed that the child was infected with a strain that shared genetic links to the virus detected in the Philippines, Noor Hisham said.

Meanwhile, the public health expert T. Jayabalan was reportedly not surprised by the polio outbreak because the immunization was not mandatory in Malaysia. “This first case probably is the tip of the iceberg. There is a very high possibility of a rising trend,“ he warned.

There was a small group of people who refuse vaccination on account of misinformation, Jayabalan said.

Malaysia, in recent years, had recorded a number of deaths among children from diphtheria, a vaccine-preventable disease, because they did not receive an immunisation.

Investigations found that 23 children under the age of 15 who lived close to the infected baby had also not received the polio vaccine, Noor Hisham said. “This is a frustrating situation because of the spread of the disease … can only be stopped with polio immunization.”

Vaccination activities and monitoring will be carried out to try and contain the spread of the disease, he added.

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