Russia confirms first polio case in 13 years

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia has confirmed its first polio case in 13 years in an infant visiting from Tajikistan, but there is no immediate threat of a wider outbreak, the country’s main public health body said Friday.

The 9-month-old girl was diagnosed with the disease after arriving in the Siberian region of Irkutsk from the Central Asian state, where at least 12 people have died from a polio outbreak, said Rospotrebnadzor spokeswoman Lyubov Voropayeva.

“All the necessary epidemiological measures have been taken. There is not currently any threat the disease will spread,” Voropayeva said.

Tests in a Moscow hospital found that a second girl from Tajikistan, also 9 months old, was carrying the polio virus but had not developed the disease, Voropayeva said. The last case of polio was confirmed in Russia in 1997.

Polio, which spreads in areas with poor sanitation, attacks the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours of infection. Children under the age of 3 are most vulnerable.

The disease was practically eliminated as a public health problem in industrialized countries in the 1960s, but remains endemic in seven countries, including India, Nigeria and Pakistan, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

At least 12 people have died of polio since January in Tajikistan, WHO figures show. “It is a huge outbreak,” WHO spokeswoman Sona Bari told Reuters in Geneva.

She said at least 83 cases of polio had been registered in Tajikistan. Apart from Russia, no other ex-Soviet country has reported infections from the outbreak, she said.

UNICEF, the U.N. children’s fund, Friday said it was starting a second round of polio vaccination in Tajikistan, aiming to reach 1.1 million children under the age of 6 and was planning additional vaccinations in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

The WHO, a U.N. agency, will present its strategy for eradicating polio by 2013 at its annual ministerial meeting of 193 member states in Geneva next week.

Writing by Conor Humphries; additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Janet Lawrence