Saturday 21 April 2018

Indian city on 'high alert' as polio strain found in sewage water

The southern Indian state of Telangana has declared a
The southern Indian state of Telangana has declared a "high alert" for polio, with about 350,000 children set to be vaccinated in a week-long campaign (AP)

A city of nearly seven million people in southern India has declared a "high alert" for polio after an active strain of the virus was found in samples of sewage water, an official said.

A vaccination drive will be launched after tests revealed a vaccine-derived poliovirus in sewage samples taken in Hyderabad, the capital of Telangana state, Rajeshwar Tiwari, the state's top health official, told reporters.

About 350,000 children ranging from six weeks to three years old will be vaccinated during the week-long campaign, which will start on Monday.

Mr Tiwari said that "a high alert" was declared in 24 sections of Hyderabad that had been identified as "most-sensitive areas".

India fought a decades-long battle to eradicate polio in the country, with the federal and state governments, the World Health Organisation (WHO), Unicef and several volunteer groups joining hands to fight the crippling disease.

India was formally declared polio-free in 2014. Its last case was detected in the eastern state of West Bengal in 2011.

The virus strain was found last month in a water sample traced to a sewage treatment plant in the Amberpet section of Hyderabad, Mr Tiwari said.

It was detected during countrywide random tests of sewage water that have been held regularly since the disease was eradicated in India.

Hyderabad, whose population is about 6.8 million, is often referred to as "Cyberabad" because several international information technology giants, including Accenture, Microsoft, Verizon and Oracle, have their India headquarters in the city.

Mr Tiwari sought to reassure city residents by saying that the vaccination drive would be repeated so that no child is affected.

"There is no need to panic," he said. "As India was declared polio-free five years ago, tests are carried out regularly to ascertain if there are traces of polio virus in the environment."

State health authorities have decided to set up more than 750 vaccination centres in Hyderabad and another 122 in nearby Ranga Reddy district to ensure that all children are covered during the vaccination drive.

Apart from state government employees, volunteers from WHO, Unicef and Rotary Club will also participate in the drive, Mr Tiwari said.

The Health Ministry said the discovery did not reflect a resurgence of polio in India.

"India continues to be polio free as the country has eradicated wild polio virus," the ministry said in a statement, noting the last case was recorded in January 2011. "It has been more than five years that no wild polio has been detected."

The poliovirus detected last month in Hyderabad was a strain that had mutated from the vaccine itself, the ministry said. Its detection "only indicates the robustness of the surveillance system", the ministry said.

Press Association

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