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Now a Polio Scare for Air Travellers

A 22-year-old student from Pakistan has been diagnosed with the first case of polio in Australia in 20 years and remains quarantined in a Melbourne hospital .

He is a student student living in Melbourne, said the Australian government's Chief Medical Officer John Horvath. The young man had flown in by a Thai Airlines flight TG999 on July 2.

Authorities issued a national health alert when the diagnosis was confirmed on Friday. They also started immunizing those passengers who had shared the flight with the Pakistani.

About 120 of the 249 passengers have been found so far and about 50 were given booster shots at the Department of Human Services offices in Melbourne.

Among them was Melbourne man Paul O'Connor, 66, who was terrified of polio as a child.

"I remembered the 1950s epidemic in Melbourne and one of our neighbours, a boy that I used to muck around with, was very badly crippled by polio," he said.

"I used to see him being treated by a physiotherapist and he suffered a lot of pain, terrible disability, he had a shocking childhood.

"In those days you were terrified of getting it."

For brothers Alex Gath, aged three, and Michael, seven, today's injections were frightening enough and they screamed when they saw the needle.

The family had been visiting relatives in Thailand.

Passenger David Irvine said his wife Sheila had been ill after the flight, but was fine now.

The trip home from Scotland, via Thailand, was already traumatic with the Glasgow Airport car bombing, he said.

"It's not the way to finish a holiday, that's for sure," he said.

Irvine said he sat next to a Pakistani student on the plane but did not know whether that man was the one now in hospital.

Victoria's chief health officer Dr John Carnie said the student's symptoms had gone, but he would be quarantined for at least 10 days and must test negative twice before being released.

His five Melbourne flatmates have also been quarantined.

The student had been in Pakistan for four months and began showing symptoms in June, he said.

Pakistan is one of four countries not declared polio-free by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

This year, Pakistan has reported nine polio cases, Nigeria has reported 105, India 62 and Afghanistan three.

The risk to the flight's passengers is low, Dr Carnie said.

"We are just being extra cautious in advising them to have a vaccine."

There is no specific treatment for polio, patients are kept in bed then given physiotherapy, he said.


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