July 11, 2022

Poliovirus Has Been Detected in Sewage Samples in London

Although children in the UK are routinely vaccinated against polio, the uptake is lower than usual in London. And now health officials have detected the polio virus in a worrying number of sewage samples in London, According to recent news.

The polio disease which was rampant in the UK in the 1950s, was eliminated by 2003. The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) believes that the virus found in the sewage samples was probably imported to London by someone who was recently vaccinated overseas with a live form of the virus.

Health officials say it is low risk but beckons on parents to ensure that they have their children fully immunized against the disease.

Dr. Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at UKHSA, said: "Most of the UK population will be protected from vaccination in childhood, but in some communities with low vaccine coverage, individuals may remain at risk."

As part of the routine polio immunization program for children in the UK, an inactivated polio vaccine is administered to children three times before the age of one, and then again at three and 14 years of age.

Figures show that while the rest of the UK has a take-up level of 92% for the first three doses, London is about 86% which is well below the target levels.

Health authorities have now declared a national incident and also informed the World Health Organization (WHO) of the situation.

The polio virus was found by the UKHSA in samples collected from the Beckton sewage works over the past four months. The sewage area serves north and east London- a population of four million.

Scientists believe that the source must be from someone who was immunised abroad with the live oral polio vaccine, which hasn't been used in the UK since 2004. The person then shed traces of the virus from their gut which was picked up in the sewage samples.

In rare cases, that form of the virus can be transmitted to another person and will mutate into a "vaccine-derived" polio. This form is weaker than the original form but it can still cause illness including paralysis in those who have not been vaccinated.

Each year, a small number of the polio virus is detected in sewage sampling but this is the first time that a cluster of genetically-linked samples is found over and over again over a period of months.

This according to health officials suggests that there has been some spread of the virus between closely linked individuals in London. However, there have been no actual cases of polio detected nor have any serious symptoms of the disease been reported in the UK.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said he was not "particularly worried" about the detection of polio, adding that the UK has a high vaccination rate against the virus, with no cases since 2003.

Jane Clegg, chief nurse for the NHS in London said the health service will reach out to parents who have children under the age of five in London who have not completed their childhood immunization.

"Parents can also check their child's vaccination status in their red book, and people should contact their GP practice to book a vaccination should they or their child not be fully up to date," she said.

Rare Disease

Polio is a rare disease which can be gotten from food or water which has been in contact with the feces of someone who has the virus. It can also be caught although in rarer cases by coughing and sneezing.

Usually, many people who have the virus do not have any symptoms and their body will fight off the virus without them knowing that they were infected. On the other hand, a small number will experience flu-like symptoms for up to three weeks

However, in a very small number of cases, between one in 100 and one in 1000, the polio virus can result in paralysis usually in the legs when it attacks the nerves in the spine and base of the brain. The disease can be life threatening if it affects the breathing muscles.

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