Polio strain found in India two years after virus declared eradicated

Two years after the World Health Organization declared India polio-free, an active strain of the virus has been found in samples of sewage water in the southern city of Hyderabad.

In response, the country is launching an emergency vaccination drive with the goal of vaccinating 350,000 children aged 6 weeks to 3 years old next week in Hyderabad and the neighboring Ranga Reddy district.

Reza Hossaini, UNICEF’s director of polio eradication said the identified strain is a mutation of the one used in the polio vaccine and is a weakened form of what is considered the “wild” virus.

“If left alone, [the strain] has the potential to become as dangerous as wild polio,” Hossaini said.

India’s government, along with the World Health Organization and international nonprofit organizations, spent billions of dollars to eradicate polio in India.

The last case was detected in 2011, and the country received its official polio-free status in 2014 when the WHO confirmed there had been no new cases in three years.

A UNICEF representative confirmed to the NewsHour that the discovery of the strain will not change India’s WHO polio-free status. (UNICEF works with WHO on polio-related initiatives.)