June 7, 2006

WHO Traces Namibia Adult Polio Outbreak to Angola

GENEVA -- The unusual outbreak of the polio virus in Namibia, a country previously free from the disease, arrived from neighboring Angola, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

In a statement released in Geneva, the WHO confirmed that at least three people in the southern African nation had contacted the paralyzing virus that normally afflicts children.

The United Nations agency said a total of 34 people -- most of them aged 20 or older -- were suspected to have been infected with polio in Namibia. Seven among them have died.

"Genetic sequencing confirms that the virus is consistent with an importation from Angola, of Indian origin," the WHO said in a statement.

It said the first person infected in Namibia was thought to be a 39-year-old man who saw an onset of paralysis on May 8.

Though routine polio immunization among children is now common in Namibia, the WHO said it was likely that the adults who have fallen ill were not vaccinated as children.

Namibia had been polio-free since 1996.

The WHO missed its target of stopping the spread of polio, a viral disease of the brain and spinal cord that can cause lifelong paralysis within hours, by the end of last year.

Four countries -- Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan -- have never managed to stamp out the disease. Angola was declared polio-free in 2001 but was re-infected with a strain of the virus from India last year.

In response to its outbreak, the WHO said Namibia will launch an immunization campaign targeting the country's entire population of 2 million people -- much broader than normal efforts aiming at children up to age 5 -- as early as June 21.