Tests under way to find how limbs of 18-month old were hit by Acute Flaccid Paralysis

Sitting on a wooden bench outside the Primary Health Centre (PHC) here, Nagiya Devi tried to pacify her infant. Her husband Mangal Lohra, a construction worker in Punjab, clutched a small plastic bottle and medicines and eyed anxiously a blue plastic icebox placed by his side.

The couple described how after eating lunch on Saturday they watched their 18-month old daughter Sarita Devi, youngest among their three children, suddenly fall sideways while walking. They realised a few minutes later to their horror that her left arm and leg were immobile.

“The child has not passed stools since Saturday and we have not been able to send a sample to Kolkata to test for polio. Once we send a sample, we can confirm in three weeks whether the cause for the Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP) is polio or some other cause,” said Arif Hussain, the Latehar District Monitor with the World Health Organisation. He reached the PHC on Monday to collect details of the case.

Nagiya Devi recollected that she gave birth to Sarita at her house, and thus the infant had not received the first polio drop to be administered soon after birth. “We administer polio drops to all infants five times — at birth, then at the age of 1.5 month, 2.5 months, 3.5 months, and at 15 months. Even if she may have missed the vaccination given after birth, every Auxilliary Nurse in Balumath visits six to eight anganwadi centres every month and administers polio drops with other vaccinations such as diphtheria,” said Dr Suresh Kumar, the Nodal Medical Officer attending to the family.

“My daughter has received polio drops only once. That was when the nurse came to our house earlier this year. I took Sarita to the anganwadi in our village for DPT vaccination as we were asked to. The nurse gave her injections, she did not put anything in her mouth,” said Nagiya Devi.

According to data from the WHO and the National Polio Surveillance Project, 12 cases of AFP among children have been recorded in Latehar since January, including Sarita’s. Samples were tested for poliovirus in 10 cases and all tested negative. Besides Sarita, a seven-year old girl in Barwadih was diagnosed with AFP last week, though the sampling has not yet been completed, said Mr. Hussain.“High incidence of AFP could be linked to better awareness and higher levels of reporting by rural families than before. But we had expressed our concern to State-level health officials last year because after July last year we did not receive enough polio vaccine; there was shortage for a few months,” said District Civil Surgeon Bibha Sharan.