Syrian refugee toddler in Lebanon may have polio

March 11, 2014 at 4:41 PM
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TAANAYEL, Lebanon, March 11 (UPI) -- A 19-month-old refugee boy from Syria hospitalized in Taanayel, Lebanon, is suspected of having polio, health officials say.

Dr. Zaher Haider, a pediatrician at a Lebanese hospital filled with Syrian refugees, said the boy had already tested negative for meningitis, but World Health Organization officials sent throat and stool samples to Cairo to determine if the boy has polio, NBC News reported.

The child who has polio-like symptoms, has been isolated from others in the hospital, NBC chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman said Tuesday.

Should the test be positive it would be Lebanon's first documented case of polio among Syrian refugees in Lebanon, a grave concern because the disease is so contagious it could quickly spread among refugees who have not been vaccinated -- which includes most children born during the conflict now in its fourth year.

More than 1.2 million children recently fled Syria and more than 500,000 Syrian children are currently living as refugees in Lebanon.

The outbreak of paralytic polio among children in Syria last October triggered the largest-ever consolidated immunization response in the Middle East aiming to vaccinate more than 20 million children in seven countries and territories, WHO officials said.

Syria's immunization rates dropped from more than 90 percent before the conflict to 68 percent last year.

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