UK on red alert: Urgent investigation launched by UKHSA as POLIO detected in London


UK on red alert: Urgent investigation launched by UKHSA as POLIO detected in London

Farmer speaks out over sewage being pumped into a local riverThe UK Heath Security Agency (UKHSA) is now working with the Medicines & Healthcar

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Farmer speaks out over sewage being pumped into a local river

The UK Heath Security Agency (UKHSA) is now working with the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) after the disease was found in sewage samples collected from the London Beckton Sewage Treatment Works.

The virus was thought to have been eradicated from the UK in 2003, but similar viruses were detected in the sewage samples taken between May and February.

Under routine surveillance, it is common for one to three “vaccine-like” polioviruses to be detected annually UK sewage samples.

These usually come from an individual vaccinated overseas who had a live oral polio vaccine (OPV) and has returned or travelled to the UK.

These individuals briefly “shed” traces of the vaccine-like poliovirus in their faeces.


Health chiefs have issued a warning after poliovirus was detected in sewage samples (Image: Getty )

The findings are usually a one-off and do not get redetected, which means they do not spark alarm for the health authorities.

But the latest findings have shown that the virus in February-May samples has continued to evolve.

Experts have classed it as a “vaccine-derived” poliovirus type 2 (VDPV2).

Whilst it is rare, this has the potential to cause serious illnesses, like paralysis, in people who are not fully vaccinated.

The detection of a VDPV2 indicates a likelihood that some spread between closely linked individuals in North-East London has occurred.

Prof Nicholas Grassly, Professor of Vaccine Epidemiology, Imperial College London

What is vaccine-like and vaccine-derived poliovirus?

“Oral polio vaccine contains a weakened, live virus that immunises us by growing in the intestine for a short period during which it can be detected in stool. This virus can occasionally be transmitted and very rarely it can spread further to cause an outbreak of vaccine-derived poliovirus. Whilst rare, these vaccine-derived polioviruses have lost their attenuating mutations and are just as likely as the wild-type strain to cause paralysis.

Which polio vaccine do we currently use in the UK? Why do some other countries still use (live) oral polio vaccine?

“Oral polio vaccine is easy to administer and gives good gut immunity that protects against infection and poliovirus shedding in stool if exposed. It is needed to stop polio outbreaks in countries with poor sanitation where food and water may be contaminated with human waste. In the UK the oral vaccine was replaced with an injectable inactivated polio vaccine in 2004.

Is it unusual to detect these viruses in sewage sampling? What makes this situation different from previous situations?

“Polio persists in some of the poorest parts of the world and the UK quite frequently detects imported virus in sewage samples. In this case, genetically related viruses have been detected since February in sewage from north and east London suggesting there may be local circulation. Fortunately, so far no one has developed symptoms of the disease, which only affects about 1 in 200 of those infected, but it is important that children are fully up-to-date with their polio vaccines. Until polio is eradicated globally we will continue to face this infectious disease threat.”

But officials have stressed that the risk to the public is “extremely low”, but warned that it does have the potential to spread/

Dr Vanessa Saliba, a Consultant Epidemiologist at UKHSA said: “Vaccine-derived poliovirus is rare and the risk to the public overall is extremely low.

“Vaccine-derived poliovirus has the potential to spread, particularly in communities where vaccine uptake is lower.”

She urged people to check to get the vaccine and check that they are up-to-date if they have not already done so.

Dr Saliba said: “On rare occasions, it can cause paralysis in people who are not fully vaccinated so if you or your child are not up to date with your polio vaccinations it’s important you contact your GP to catch up or if unsure check your red book.

“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.

“We are urgently investigating to better understand the extent of this transmission and the NHS has been asked to swiftly report any suspected cases to the UKHSA, though no cases have been reported or confirmed so far.”

Jane Clegg, Chief nurse for the NHS in London, reassured that most people will be protected.

She said: “The majority of Londoners are fully protected against Polio and won’t need to take any further action, but the NHS will begin reaching out to parents of children aged under five in London who are not up-to-date with their Polio vaccinations 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 should they or their child not be fully up-to-date.”

The last detected case of poliovirus in the UK was detected in 1983.

The World Health Organization considers Britain to be polio-free, but vaccine coverage for childhood vaccines has decreased nationally and especially in parts of London over the past few years.

Worldwide, cases due to wild poliovirus have decreased by over 99 percent since 1988.

In some cases, it can be life-threatening.

Some symptoms include a high temperature, extreme tiredness, headaches, muscle pain and a stiff neck.

According to the NHS, these usually last around ten days.