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Bangladesh Confirms Polio Case

March 17, 2006

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) _ Bangladesh confirmed on Friday the country’s first case of polio in nearly six years, prompting plans to resume mass vaccinations against the crippling disease next month.

Laboratory tests showed that Rahima Aktar, a 9-year-old girl in the eastern Chandpur district, has polio, health officials said.

``This is an emergency and we will do our best to completely eradicate the virus,″ Health and Family Welfare Minister Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain said.

A team of World Health Organization experts met with the minister and promised to help tackle the virus.

``We are worried,″ said Arun Thapa, the WHO’s regional adviser for polio in Southeast Asia who investigated the case. ``The virus has had time to spread.″

Health workers have vaccinated 215 young children in the girl’s village as a precaution, local health official Abdul Mannan said.

Mannan said the girl, who developed signs of paralysis early this year, was infected despite taking 12 doses of polio vaccine. She came in contact with a family who had recently visited India’s Uttar Pradesh state, where polio is endemic, he said.

However Thapa said the family had no records to confirm the girl had been vaccinated against the disease. Samples confirmed the type of polio that infected the girl was genetically similar to the virus circulating in India, he added.

There were no other suspected cases at the moment, but that could change quickly, Thapa said.

Bangladesh had been polio-free since August 2000 thanks to extensive vaccination, according to the government and WHO.

The planned vaccination campaign next month will come after a break of about two years, said Hossain.

Polio is endemic in only four countries _ Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan. The disease is also present in eight other countries _ including Yemen, Indonesia and Somalia _ where it had previously been eradicated before being imported again from one of the endemic countries, WHO has said.

When WHO launched a $4 billion anti-polio campaign in 1988, there were more than 350,000 cases annually. Last year, that figure had fallen to some 1,880 people.

Only about one in 200 people infected ever gets sick. However, those who do not display symptoms are still capable of transmitting the disease.

Polio is spread when people _ mostly children under 5 _ who are not vaccinated come into contact with the feces of those with the virus, often through water. The virus attacks the central nervous system, causing paralysis, muscular atrophy and deformation and, in some cases, death.

Update hourly