Malaysia reports its first case of polio in twenty seven years; 3-month-old boy hospitalised

The last reported case of polio in Malaysia was in 1992, and the country was declared free of polio in 2000

Malaysia reported its first case of polio in twenty-seven years after a three-month-old infant was diagnosed with the disease, Noor Hisham Abdullah, Director General of Health, said on Sunday. The infant boy from Tuaran in the state of Sabah on Borneo island, was suffering from muscular weakness and fever when he was admitted to the hospital on Friday. Tests confirmed that he was infected with vaccine-derived poliovirus type 1 (VDPV1).

"The patient is currently being treated in an isolation ward and is in stable condition but still needs breathing assistance," said Abdullah in a statement.

First reported case in twenty-seven years

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. The last reported case of polio in Malaysia was in 1992, and the country was declared free of polio in 2000. Incidentally, this report comes only a few months after the Philippines reported its first case of polio since 1993.

According to the director-general, a recent survey of the area in Sabah, found that 23 out of 199 children between two months and fifteen years of age had not been vaccinated for polio.

Polio vaccination
Polio vaccination Reuters

Stressing on the urgency to ramp up vaccination activities and prevent further cases, he said, "To ensure that the poliovirus is not transmitted in Malaysia and causes poliomyelitis among those who are not immune to polio infection, polio immunization activities will be continued in the area of ​​residence and expanded to other risky areas. This is to ensure high coverage of polio immunization, which is over 95%."

Abdullah also added that the authorities have stepped up investigations and monitoring of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP), a proxy for polio, in the region.

No cure, vaccination is prevention

Polio or Poliomyelitis is caused by the poliovirus which infects only human beings and mostly affects children below five years of age. It attacks the nervous system and causes paralysis, which in most cases is permanent. Though there is no known cure for the disease, it can be prevented through vaccination. It is transmitted when faecal material from an infected individual enters the mouth of a healthy person through contaminated water or food.

According to WHO, Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only two countries where the disease is endemic. However, it warns that the failure to eradicate the disease in these regions could result in 200,000 new cases across the world every year within ten years.