Britain’s health agency has urged families to check children are fully vaccinated after poliovirus was discovered at London’s sewage works. Officials insist the current risk to the population is low
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Polio is believed to be spreading across the UK for the first time in decades as the NHS is warned to keep an eye out for cases of paralysis.
The British health authority has repeatedly detected the poliovirus in London’s sewage works and urged families to check that children are fully vaccinated.
The last community outbreak in the UK was in the 1970s, but health officials insist the current risk to the population is low.
Oral polio vaccines sold abroad contain a “weakened” form of the virus — weakened in a lab so it can’t cause disease.
These vaccine-derived forms of the virus persist in the stool and are occasionally detected in routine UK sewage testing conducted in London and Glasgow.
The oral vaccines differ from the polio injections sold in the UK, which contain a completely inactivated form of the virus.
It is believed that someone from Afghanistan, Pakistan or Nigeria who recently received the oral vaccine saw this weakened form of the virus then mutate and pass it on to others.
For the first time, Britain has repeatedly uncovered genetically related samples suggesting the virus has been spreading since February and has further mutated from this asymptomatic, vaccine-derived form.
Recent 14-day sewage sampling has raised concerns that it may have evolved from the harmless virus to the wild-type form that has been endemic in Europe since Victorian times.
The UKHSA has declared a national emergency, alerting the World Health Organization which could strip Britain of its polio-free status.
dr Vanessa Saliba, Consulting Epidemiologist at UKHSA, said: “Vaccine-derived poliovirus is rare and the risk to the general public is extremely low.
“Vaccine-derived poliovirus has the potential to spread, particularly in communities where vaccine uptake is lower.
“On rare occasions, paralysis can occur in people who are not fully vaccinated. So if you or your child are not up to date on their polio vaccinations, it is important that you contact your GP to make up for it, or if you are unsure, check your red book. “Most of the UK population will be protected from vaccination during childhood, but in some communities with low immunization coverage, individuals may remain at risk.
“We are urgently investigating to better understand the extent of this transmission and the NHS has been asked to quickly report any suspected cases to the UKHSA, although no cases have been reported or confirmed to date.”
Polio has existed for as long as anyone can remember, but has become a major public health problem since the late Victorian era, with major epidemics in Europe and the United States.
The poliovirus enters the body through the nose or mouth and can further invade the central nervous system, destroying or damaging the nerve cells that control muscles.
It leads to weakness and loss of use of limbs. In 1 in 200 cases, it causes irreversible paralysis.
Up to 10% of people who are paralyzed die when their respiratory muscles stop working. In the early 20th century, patients were forced to live with an “iron lung” that breathed for them.
There is no cure for polio once a person has contracted it, and it can only be prevented through vaccination.
The last outbreak in the UK was in the late 1970s and the last case of naturally occurring polio was recorded in 1984.
The NHS is offering three doses of its polio injection for infants with booster shots aged three and 14. Intake has declined in recent years, and less so in London.
People who have received three doses of this injection are probably at least 99% protected from paralysis.
But even fully vaccinated people can get and spread the virus without showing any symptoms.
Sewage samples are taken from London’s Beckton Sewage Works, which serve four million people in the capital. Wastewater monitoring is now being expanded.
Doctors have been instructed to consider polio when patients show symptoms of paralysis.
Jane Clegg, senior nurse at the NHS London, said: “The majority of Londoners are fully protected against polio and need not take any further action, but the NHS will start reaching out to parents of children under five in London who are are not up to date with their vaccinations to invite them to be protected.
“Meanwhile, parents can also check their child’s vaccination status in their Red Book and people should contact their GP practice to book a vaccination if they or their child are not fully up to date.”
Polio is now mainly found in only two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The attenuated oral vaccine sold abroad is known to cause an infection in which the virus then mutates and spreads, but only in 1 in a million cases.
In countries where everyone has received the oral form, they are better protected from outbreaks that develop as a result of the vaccine virus.
Mary Berry of the Great British Bake Off contracted polio when she was 13 and had to spend three months in hospital. This resulted in her having a twisted spine, a weaker left hand, and a thinner left arm.
Other notable names affected as children include US actors Mia Farrow and Donald Sutherland, and singer Joni Mitchell.
https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/breaking-polio-spreading-britain-first-27300404 Polio is spreading across the UK as a national incident for the first time in decades