Fight to contain polio outbreak as search for source begins after first traces were discovered in February

THE battle to contain polio infections has begun in the UK as health chiefs launch an investigation to find the source of the disease.

Experts have spotted the flaw in sewage samples in London and urged people to check their injections are up to date.

The last case of polio in Britain was in 1984 and the country was declared polio-free in 2003


The last case of polio in Britain was in 1984 and the country was declared polio-free in 2003Photo credit: Getty

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has launched an investigation to protect the public from the spread.

In the report, experts warned that the virus had already been detected in samples from London’s Beckon Sewage Treatment Works in February.

Since then, the virus has evolved and is now classified as ‘vaccine-derived’ poliovirus type 2 (VDPV2).

Find out if the polio virus is contagious
Find out if you have been vaccinated against polio

Doctors said that in rare cases this can lead to serious illnesses such as paralysis in people who are not fully vaccinated.

The paper, published yesterday, said: “The detection of a VDPV2 suggests that there was likely some spread between closely related individuals in north and east London and that they are now carrying the type 2 poliovirus strain in pass their feces.

“The virus has only been detected in sewage samples and no associated cases of paralysis have been reported – but investigations will aim to determine if community transmission is occurring.”

Prof Nicholas Grassly, head of the Vaccine Epidemiology Research Group at Imperial College London, said there were concerns the virus could be circulating locally in London and spreading further.

Doctors yesterday warned that the emergence of polio in Britain is a reminder that it has not yet been eradicated.

The last case of polio in Britain was in 1984 and the country was declared polio-free in 2003.

Before a vaccine was introduced in the 1950s, epidemics resulted in thousands of people becoming paralyzed and hundreds of deaths annually.

Experts believe a traveler – likely from Pakistan, Afghanistan or Nigeria – is shedding the virus in his stool after receiving the oral polio vaccine.

But the bug has now spread to others after mutations, with the same strain being repeatedly detected in sewage samples.

Despite clear indications of an outbreak, no cases have become known.

What Are the 6 Signs of Polio You Need to Know?

The majority of people who contract the poliovirus have no visible symptoms.

About one in four people with poliovirus infection will have flu-like symptoms, which may include:

  1. Sore throat
  2. Fever
  3. fatigue
  4. nausea
  5. headache
  6. stomach pain

Symptoms usually last between two and 10 days before going away on their own.

In very rare cases, polio can cause difficulty using your muscles, usually in your legs.

This is not usually permanent and movement should slowly return over the next few weeks or months.

And officials insist the overall risk to the public remains very low.

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 catch up, or if you are unsure, check your red book.”

Polio is an infectious disease that can be transmitted from person to person and most commonly affects children under the age of five.

The History of Polio – All You Need to Know

Polio is a disease that primarily affects children under the age of five.

Data from previous outbreaks show that one in 200 infections results in irreversible paralysis.

Of these, five to ten percent die.

Some of the first references to polio come from ancient Egypt.

A tablet from a stone carving in the years 1403-1365 BC. showed a priest with characteristics of polio.

1798: It received its first clinical description from the British physician Michael Underwood

1840: Was recognized by Jakob Heine as a condition

1840 – 1900: In the UK, polio was a major public health crisis in Victorian England, and there were major incidents in Europe as well.

1916: New York experienced the first major epidemic, with more than 9,000 cases and 2,343 deaths.

1928: Philip Drinker and Louie Shaw develop “iron lung” technology to help children ravaged by the disease. Children would spend two weeks in the device, now made redundant by vaccinations.

1950: The disease was wreaking havoc in Britain at this time. The country has been rocked by a series of polio epidemics that have left up to 8,000 people with paralytic poliomyelitis.

1952: Over 57,000 cases have been recorded in the United States. Also in 1952, Dr. Jonas Salk developing a vaccine.

1953: Cases started falling when jabs were introduced.

1961: The oral polio vaccine was introduced. Despite the progress, there were still 79 deaths and 707 acute cases in the UK at this point.

1962: Britons started using the oral vaccine.

1988: Polio had disappeared from Britain, the US and much of Europe, but it still existed in more than 125 counties.

1994: The Americas Region of the World Health Organization is certified polio-free

1997: Last wild cases in the western Pacific region are recorded

2002: Europe is certified polio-free

2011: China returned to polio-free status

2012: At this time, polio is still endemic in Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan and India.

2013: outbreak in Syria

2015: Polio endemic in Pakistan and Afghanistan

2016: Case of polio in Nigeria

2020: Type 1 was only circulating in Pakistan and Afghanistan while Type 2 and 3 have been eliminated for over a decade.

2021: Five cases of polio worldwide

February 2022: First polio case in Africa in five years, leaving a three-year-old girl paralyzed in Malawi

The disease attacks the nervous system and in some extreme cases can lead to paralysis.

Polio is very contagious and a person can transmit it even if they are not sick.

In the UK, polio vaccination is part of the NHS routine children’s vaccination schedule.

It is given as a vaccination when a child is 8, 12 and 16 weeks old. And two more shots are given at the age of 3 years and 4 months and at the age of 14 years.

However, one in ten children in London by the age of five has not been fully vaccinated against the pathogen.

Jane Clegg, senior nurse at the NHS in 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 at risk of polio -Vaccinations are not up to date to invite them to get 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.”

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Sarah Y. Kim

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