JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel said on Sunday it was launching a campaign to administer the active polio vaccine to children in its southern region after tests detected at least 1,000 carriers of the virus in that area, though none were found to be ill with the disease.
The Health Ministry said it was recommending that children born after January 2004, but not younger than two months, report to publicly-funded clinics to be administered oral drops of a weakened active virus vaccine beginning on Monday.
Polio, a viral illness that can cause paralysis, is considered highly contagious but has been eradicated in most countries since vaccines were developed in the 1950s.
Most children around the world are now vaccinated at an early age with the inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) as part of routine public health policy. The active oral vaccine (OPV) is administered in places endemic for polio or where the risk of transmission is high.
Israel conducted tests after the virus was detected in sewage samples some weeks ago, and subsequent tests by laboratories abroad provided "indications there are between 1,000 to 2,000 carriers of the virus," Health Minister Yael German said in an interview with Channel 2 television.
While there have been no reported cases of the disease, a decision was made to take protective steps. Israeli media said the target population numbered about 150,000 children.
"The level of immunization in Israel is 98 percent and there are no cases of the disease," German said. "But the virus exists, for now in the south."
Tests were still being conducted to see whether the immunization campaign ought to be widened to cover other parts of the country, German added.
A similar immunization campaign followed a limited outbreak of polio in Israel and Palestinian territories in the late 1980s, at a time when it was believed the disease had been eradicated in the region.
Health groups have said they believe they could rid the world of polio by 2018 with a $5.5 billion vaccination and monitoring plan.
(Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)