MYANMAR: Mass Vaccination Target Rare Polio Strain

YANGON, 17 February 2011 (IRIN) – A rare strain of the polio virus is re-emerging in Myanmar after three years, say health workers. One case was confirmed in Myanmar last December – followed by two more of unknown origin reported but not yet confirmed in January – prompting health officials to organize a mass vaccination campaign to target millions of under-five children.

A seven-month old infant was infected with vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV) in December in central Myanmar’s Mandalay division in Yamethin Township, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) office in Myanmar.

“But one case is enough [to require] an emergency response,” said Marinus Gotink, UNICEF’s chief of health and nutrition in Myanmar.

The Department of Health has already immunized 10,000 children living in or around the area where the December polio case was diagnosed.

“But the campaign should be much bigger,” Gotink said, adding that UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) were planning a mass vaccination national campaign, expected to target 3.34 million children in 109 of the country’s 325 townships.

In January two more polio cases were detected but not yet lab-confirmed in Mandalay Division’s Yamethin Township and Mon State’s Thanbyuzayut Township.

VDPV comes from a strain of polio contained in oral polio vaccines that mutates into a form that can paralyze. The only way to fully protect children from either the more common wild polio strain or VDPV is full vaccination, according to the WHO.

From 1997-2007, nine countries with low levels of polio immunization worldwide reported outbreaks of VDPV that resulted in fewer than 200 polio infections, according to the world health body. In the same period, 33,000 children were paralyzed by the wild poliovirus.

VDPV first appeared in central Myanmar in 2006 in Mandalay Division. The following year, four more cases were confirmed in Yangon Division, home of the economic capital, Yangon, as well as Mon and Kayin State bordering Thailand in the east and Bago Division East.
[Courtesy of IRIN]

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