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Israel extends polio vaccination campaign

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel will administer the active polio vaccine to children nationwide beginning on August 18, the Health Ministry said on Friday, stepping up an inoculation campaign currently limited to the south of the country.

The decision was made after the virus was detected in sewage treatment plants in Lod and Ramle, towns close to Israel's central hub city of Tel Aviv, the ministry said in a statement.

It said it would call on parents of children born after January 2004 to bring them to publicly-funded clinics to receive oral drops of a weakened active virus vaccine between August 18 and 25.

A smaller-scale vaccination campaign has been under way since August 4 in the south, where the virus was discovered in sewage last month. The Health Ministry said 20 percent of children there had been inoculated since, and the number would increase to 50 percent within a week.

Polio, a viral illness that can cause paralysis, is 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.

There have been no reported cases of the disease in Israel in recent years.

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 Dan Williams; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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