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First case of fast-spreading polio found in 5 years in Africa as toddler left paralyzed

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A case of polio has been detected in Africa for the first time in five years, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.

The three-year-old girl from Malawi has been left paralyzed by the fast-spreading virus.

Malawi’s health authorities have declared a polio outbreak after the case was flagged in the capital Lilongwe.

Laboratory analysis showed the polio strain is type 1 linked to travel in Pakistan.

As of 2020, type 1 is only in circulation in Pakistan and Afghanistan, while type 2 and 3 have been eliminated for over a decade.

But it has not spilled into another country since 2013, when an outbreak occurred in Syria, and has never jumped between continents. 

The girl began experiencing symptoms in November, according to Science, but the strain she is infected with was in circulation in Pakistan in October 2019.

It suggests there has been an undetected spread of the virus since then.

Up to 90 percent of those infected with polio experience no or mild symptoms and the disease usually goes unrecognized.

Around one in 200 children become paralyzed. 

The WHO said it was taking “urgent measures” to prevent polio spreading to other children, including a vaccination drive.

But it said: “As an imported case from Pakistan, this detection does not affect the African region’s wild poliovirus-free certification status.”

Africa was declared free of indigenous wild polio in August 2020, a landmark moment in a decades-long campaign to eradicate the notorious disease around the world.

No polio cases had occurred on the continent for the past four years – the threshold for eradication.

Dr. Modjirom Ndoutabe, the WHO Africa region’s polio coordinator, said the last case of polio was in Nigeria in 2016.

There were only five cases of polio globally in 2021. 

The WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said thanks to high surveillance, the agency has been able to “swiftly launch a rapid response and protect children from the debilitating impact of this disease”.

Polio invades the nervous system, attacking the spinal corn and causing irreversible paralysis in children, usually in the legs.

This can happen within hours of being infected.

It spreads through the feces of an infected person and is caught when someone comes into contact with contaminated food or water.

While there is no cure for polio, a vaccine discovered in the 1950s has largely zapped the virus from the globe.

This remained out of reach for many poorer countries in Asia and Africa until a major push in recent decades.

In the UK, 93 percent of one-year-olds have had their polio jab, compared to 46 percent in the Central Africa Republic. 

Some parts of Africa have very high jab rates, such as in Botswana (96 percent) and Morocco (99 percent).

There hasn’t been a case of polio caught in the UK since the mid-80s, and the NHS says “there remains a very small risk it could be brought back to the UK”.

This article originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced here with permission.



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