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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, July 19) – Parents and health workers in Papua New Guinea have been urged to ensure that infants under three months are fully immunised against polio.

World Health Organisation’s (WHO) representative in Papua New Guinea, Dr Eigil Sorensen, stressed the need on Tuesday after receiving reports of a first type of "wild polio virus" detected in Melbourne, Australia, last week.

According to reports, a 22-year-old Australian male student was admitted to Melbourne hospital last Friday, after he contracted the virus during his recent trip to Pakistan on July 2.

"This is an imported case with transmissions of infections high in communities," Dr Sorensen said.

He said further medical examinations revealed the patient was not fully immunised against polio as an infant, thus making it difficult for his immune system to resist the virus.

He said that although PNG had been declared polio-free since 1992, the incident could serve as a reminder for Papua New Guineans to take precautions when travelling overseas and for parents to know the importance of children being properly protected.

"PNG is at risk if immunisation coverage for children is low. That is why it is important to stress the need for parents to get their children immunised."

"Polio or poliomyelitis is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus and invades the nervous system and can cause crippling paralysis, sometimes in matter of hours," Richard Duncan a scientist with WHO Expanded Programme on Immunisation, said.

He added the virus generally affects children under the age of three but adults can contract it as well.

The virus enters the body through the mouth and multiplies in the intestine.

Initial symptoms include fever, weakness, headache, vomiting and pain in the limbs.

"A lifelong paralysis can set in quickly with 5% to 10% deaths expected when breathing muscles become immobilised," Dr Sorensen said.

He added that many of those who are infected with the virus would show no symptoms at all but can pass the virus onto others.

WHO has already alerted the National Health Department to keep a lookout for the impact of virus.

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