Polio outbreak in Indonesia reaches 111

The battle to eradicate polio from the globe received another serious setback with the rise of number of children stricken with polio in Indonesia. The number of children stricken with polio in the country climbed to 111 on Tuesday, as the U.N. health agency reported 45 new cases of the crippling disease, says the AP.

One was confirmed on the island of Sumatra, which until last week was considered polio-free, said Oliver Rosenbauer, spokesman for the World Health Organization's polio eradication program in Geneva.

The other cases were all found in the provinces of Banten, West Java and the capital, Jakarta - areas that already are undergoing large-scale immunization campaigns.

Dr. Bardan Jung Rana, a WHO medical officer in Indonesia, said the rise was not unexpected.

Most of the children affected "showed the onset of paralysis" before vaccinations began, he said, adding that patients need several doses of the vaccine before immunity is built up.

Early May, the World Health Organisation confirmed that an 18-month-old child had been paralysed by polio in a village in west Java, Indonesia. The case was declared the first since 1995.

The strain of polio virus has been identified as the one that caused a large outbreak of the disease in Nigeria last year. 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.

Polio is a viral disease that can damage the nervous system and cause paralysis. The polio virus enters the body through the mouth, usually from hands contaminated with the stool of an infected person. Polio is preventable by immunization.

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