China vaccinated 4.5 million children and young adults over the last five weeks in the western region of Xinjiang in a fight against polio after the disease paralyzed 17 people and killed one of them, the World Health Organization said.

Polio has broken out in China for the first time since 1999 and scientists say the strain originated from Pakistan. The outbreak marked the latest setback to a global campaign to eradicate polio, now endemic in only four countries — Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Nigeria.

“Even if they don’t come down with any symptoms (carriers), by giving them polio vaccine we make that person less infectious,” said Oliver Rosenbauer, WHO spokesman for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in Geneva.

All 17 polio cases occurred in Hotan prefecture in the province of Xinjiang and the patients fell ill between early July and mid-September. The Geneva-based WHO assumes that for every case it finds, there would be 199 others infected with the virus without displaying symptoms, he added.

In large vaccination drives that started in early September, health workers have since vaccinated 4.5 million people with three doses each of the polio vaccine, the WHO said…

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