PETALING JAYA: A three-month-old Malaysian boy is suffering from polio, the first case in the country since it was declared polio-free almost two decades ago.
The baby in Tuaran, Sabah, is now being treated at an isolation ward of a hospital after experiencing fever and weakness of the limbs.
He is in stable condition but in need of respiratory support.
The last polio case in Malaysia occurred in 1992. In 2000, the country was declared polio-free.
In a statement yesterday, the Health Ministry confirmed the polio case, the first in Malaysia in 27 years.
Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah (pic) said the child was confirmed infected with the vaccine-derived poliovirus type 1 (VDPV1) on Dec 6.
It is classified as a circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV) type 1.
“The cVDPV originates from a poliovirus that has been weakened in the polio vaccine which is administered orally.
“The weakened virus is later excreted from the body through the faeces.
“However, in an unsanitary environment, the virus can infect others who have not been immunised against polio and will spread in communities whose polio immunisation rates are less than 95%.
“The longer the virus spreads in the community, it will undergo genetic mutation until it once again becomes an active virus, ” he added.
Those who have been vaccinated, however, would be protected from infection, he said.
Dr Noor Hashim said investigations into the living area of the polio-infected child in Sabah found that 23 out of 199 people aged between two months and 15 did not receive the polio vaccine.
“This is a frustrating situation because the circulation of a cVDPV can only end with polio immunisation.
“After explaining the importance of polio immunisation, the parents of all such children have agreed to have them vaccinated, ” he said.
He said surveillance for acute flaccid paralysis (AFP), which is a clinical syndrome characterised by weakness of the muscles of respiration and swallowing, would be conducted in the area.
“As of Dec 5, as many as 646 people have been checked and symptoms of AFP have not been detected.
“To ensure that the polio virus does not continue to spread in Malaysia and infect those who are not immunised, vaccinations will be continued in the living area of this case and will be expanded to other risk areas, ” he added.
Test results of the latest case, he said, showed that the virus had genetic links to the poliovirus that was detected in the recent outbreak in the Philippines.
(In September, the Philippines declared an outbreak of polio, caused by VDPV.)
Dr Noor Hisham urged the public to immediately seek treatment if they have AFP symptoms or to inform the ministry if they know of other cases who do not have treatment.
“The success in eradicating the disease previously was due to prevention efforts through the polio vaccination which was introduced in the National Immunisation Programme in 1972.
“The programme was made even more effective when the vaccine was changed from being administered orally to being administered through injection, ” he said.
Polio, or poliomyelitis, is a potentially deadly infectious disease caused by the poliovirus.
It can cause paralysis by invading a person’s brain and spinal cord.
The disease has no cure and can only be prevented through vaccination.