Burundi has declared a polio outbreak after detecting its first cases in three decades.
The African nation of 13 million confirmed three cases in children and also found the crippling virus in five wastewater samples.
The outbreak of poliovirus is the latest in a rash of flare-ups in Africa and beyond which have underlined the difficulty of eradicating the disease and its potential to crop up again in areas once thought clear.
Health officials said the Burundi cases were vaccine-derived type 2 poliovirus. This occurs when weakened virus used in polio drops circulates for long periods among those who have not been immunised and mutates to become harmful again.
While the wild-type virus only remains in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Mozambique, these vaccine-derived outbreaks have recently been seen more widely in countries including Madagascar, Malawi, Nigeria, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen and also the UK and America.
The international campaign to stamp out the disease has reduced cases by more than 99 per cent in the past 35 years, but the last cases have proven stubborn to stop.
Doctors in Burundi said cases were confirmed in an unvaccinated four-year-old boy in Isale district in the west of the country and two other children who were his contacts.
Polio invades the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours. It cannot be cured, but infection can be prevented by vaccination.
More cases were also announced on Thursday in six children in the DRC's eastern Tanganyika and South Kivu provinces.
Burundi's government declared the outbreak a national public health emergency and said it would hold a vaccination campaign for children under seven in the coming weeks.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) director for Africa, said: “The detection of the circulating poliovirus type 2 shows the effectiveness of the country’s disease surveillance.
“Polio is highly infectious and timely action is critical in protecting children through effective vaccination.
“We are supporting the national efforts to ramp up polio vaccination to ensure that no child is missed and faces no risk of polio’s debilitating impact.”
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