Malaysia reports first polio case after nearly 20 years of being ‘polio-free’

A child getting vaccinated for polio. <i>Photo: ABS-CBN News</i>
A child getting vaccinated for polio. Photo: ABS-CBN News

Nearly 20 years since Malaysia’s last polio case, a 3-month-old baby in Sabah has been confirmed to be suffering from the crippling virus. He is currently in the isolation ward of a hospital with a fever and limb-related complications.

Originally from Tuaran, Sabah, the child’s diagnosis was reported last week, according to the Health Ministry, which confirmed the boy was infected with the vaccine-derived poliovirus, type 1.

This weakened version of the virus is a by-product of the vaccine when it is administered orally, and is excreted by the body when an individual uses the bathroom. In unsanitary conditions, however, those who have not been vaccinated are at risk of catching the disease when they come into contact with the feces of those who have.

In communities where immunization rates dip below 95 percent, the virus is at risk of spreading, and also mutating.

Ministry officials were deployed to the area where the infected boy lived, and discovered that 23 out of 199 people between the ages of 2 months and 15 years old were not vaccinated against the virus.

“This is a frustrating situation because the circulation of a cVDPV can only end with polio immunization,” said Health Director-General Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah. “After explaining the importance of polio immunization, the parents of all such children have agreed to have them vaccinated.”

Following the baby’s diagnosis, medical staff will be examining members of the community to see if anyone is affected by any symptoms of the virus, including flaccid limbs, muscle weakness, or difficulty swallowing. Over 600 individuals have undergone check-ups with no reported symptoms.

Dr. Noor Hisham added that further examination of this particular strain of polio showed genetic links to a recent virus outbreak in the Philippines.

Polio has no cure, and the only way to prevent outbreaks of the disease is through systematic immunization, something Malaysia introduced on a national health level way back in 1972. The last recorded case was in 1992, and in 2000, we were declared to be “polio-free.”

However, this doesn’t mean that you can stop immunizing your kids, despite what the anti-vaxxers might have you believe. So do the right thing and get your shots, and make sure your kids get their shots too. Ain’t nobody got time for retro disease resurgences.

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