Polio detected in sewage samples in London

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Health officials have confirmed that the virus responsible for causing polio has been detected in sewage samples in London. The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) suggested that there have been several positive polio virus samples collected from Beckton sewage works in the last four months. The works, which service households with a population of more than 4 million people, are located in East London.

Polio was common in the UK in the 1950s but a successful vaccination programme led to elimination of the virus by 2003. The UKHSA believes that the positive samples may be linked to somebody who has been immunised overseas using a live form of the virus. The risk is low, but health officials have encouraged parents to check their child’s vaccination status and to have their children vaccinated if they haven’t already been through the immunisation programme.

The latest statistics show that across the UK, uptake rates for the polio vaccine are 92%. However, in London, the figure is much lower at 86%. This is far below the target for herd immunity. 
In the UK, the NHS runs a childhood vaccination programme, which includes immunisation against polio. The treatment is an inactivated vaccine, which is given to babies three times before the age of one and then again when children reach the ages of 3 and 14. 

In response to the positive virus samples, the UKHSA has informed the World Health Organization and health authorities have officially declared a national incident. The positive samples detected in Beckton warrant further investigation because this is the first time that officials have confirmed a cluster of samples that are connected genetically. Previously, only a very small number of samples have been detected across prolonged periods. Recently, the same cluster has been detected repeatedly. 

Experts believe that the positive sample could be traced back to an individual who has been vaccinated abroad using a live form of the vaccination. The person in question could have shed traces of the virus, which were then picked up during sampling. In very rare cases, the virus could spread and mutate into “vaccine-derived polio.” This would be a much weaker form of the disease than the original viral infection, but it could cause severe symptoms in people who have not been vaccinated. Symptoms of polio include fever, muscle pain and stiffness, paralysis, headaches, extreme tiredness and vomiting. 

The health secretary, Sajid Javid, said that there is no cause for panic due to high vaccination rates in the UK. No cases of polio have been detected, but health officials are keen to encourage parents of young children to make sure that they are up to date with vaccines.

Chief nurse for the NHS in London, Jane Clegg, confirmed that the NHS would be getting in touch with parents of children who are not up to date with childhood vaccines to provide information about the polio vaccine. Parents can also check their child’s vaccination status by looking in their red book or contacting their GP. Vaccines are free of charge for children. 

In the wake of news about positive virus samples, claims about vaccines have circulated online. Misleading posts have been identified on social media platforms, including Telegram and Twitter. Some posts suggest that vaccines can cause polio to spread. Individuals and companies behind misinformation about Covid vaccines have been campaigning against polio vaccines. 

The challenge for health officials and public health experts is to stamp out misinformation and ensure that the general public has access to reliable, accurate information about the polio virus and vaccination. Parents who want more information about the oral vaccine and those who aren’t sure whether their child has been vaccinated can talk to their GP or search for information online via the NHS website. 

Prof Paul Hunter, a specialist in public health and infectious diseases at the University of East Anglia, stressed that risks are low in the UK following the detection of positive virus samples. In a population with high vaccine uptake, a live virus from a vaccine should “fizzle out without causing any harm,” he explained.