Rumors spark polio vaccine panic in south India

BANGALORE, India (Reuters) - Thousands of parents and their children protested outside hospitals in the southern Indian city of Bangalore following false rumors that children had fallen sick after being given polio drops, police said on Monday.

Police said nobody had fallen ill from the vaccine and filed a complaint against a local TV station, saying it helped spread panic following the rumors of children contracting fever and vomiting.

Police used megaphones to cool tempers at a government hospital on Sunday night where more than 3,000 people had gathered, as traffic slowed to a crawl in parts of the infotech city.

Protesters pushed some doctors and smashed hospital windows, after their children were administered polio drops as part of a government immunization drive launched more than a decade ago.

“They were all worried and aggressive,” Bangalore’s assistant commissioner of police, Ashok Kumar, told Reuters. “It was a difficult situation. They left only after doctors and police officials assured them of their children’s safety.”

A world effort to beat polio has succeeded in slashing the number of cases by 99 percent over the past two decades, but the disease is still endemic in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

Suspicions about polio vaccines worsened after a major outbreak in India in 2006, when some Muslims resisted polio drops for their children following rumors that it was part of a Western ploy to sterilize their offspring.

Polio, which is incurable, leads to irreversible paralysis.

India has had 535 polio cases in 2008 so far compared to 471 in the same period last year, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

(Editing by Matthias Williams and Sugita Katyal)

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