Polio Virus Found in London Sewers, Brings Back Fear of Disease | Health

The virus that causes polio was detected in a worrying number of sewage samples in London, according to health officials. The disease was common in the UK in the 1950s but was eradicated in 2003.

The UK Health Safety Agency (UKHSA) says the virus was likely brought to London by someone recently vaccinated abroad with a live form of the virus.

The agency says the risk is low, but parents should ensure their children are fully immunized against the disease.

“Most of the UK population will be protected by having received the vaccine as a child, but in some communities with low vaccine coverage, people may be at risk,” says Vanessa Saliba, UKHSA consultant epidemiologist.

  • Low polio vaccination in Brazil and new cases in the world raise awareness of the risk of a return of the disease already eradicated in the country

An inactivated polio vaccine is used in the UK as part of the childhood immunization programme. It is given to children three times before they are one year old, and then again at three and 14 years of age.

In London, around 86% of children received their first three doses, well below the rest of the UK, where the rate is above 92%.

Health officials declared the return of the polio virus a “national incident” and informed the World Health Organization (WHO) of the situation.

Over the past four months, the UKHSA has found the polio virus in samples taken from the sewers in Beckton, which serves a population of four million in north and east London.

Scientists believe the virus originated from someone who was immunized abroad with the live oral polio vaccine, which has not been used in the UK since 2004.

This person likely had traces of the virus in their intestines, which were detected by sampling the sewage.

In rare cases, this form of the virus can be passed on to other people and mutate into what is known as “vaccine-derived” polio.

Although weaker than the original or natural form of the disease, it can still cause serious illness, including paralysis, in unvaccinated people.

A small number of samples of the polio virus are detected each year in sewage sampling, but this is the first time that a set of genetically linked samples has been found repeatedly over a period of months.

Health officials say this suggests there was some spread between individuals in London.

No real cases of polio have been detected and there have been no reports of rare but serious symptoms in the UK.

Health Minister Sajid Javid told the BBC he was not “particularly worried” about the detection of polio. He says the UK has a high vaccination rate against the virus, with no cases since 2003.

The public health system (NHS) in London has said it will contact parents of children under five in London who are not up to date on their doses.

Polio is a rare disease and spreads after a person does not wash their hands properly after using the toilet and then touches food or water consumed by others. The disease is also transmitted by coughing and sneezing, but this is more rare.

Most people have no symptoms and heal without even knowing they have been infected. A small number have flu-like symptoms for up to three weeks.

There is no specific treatment and victims of contagion must be hospitalized, receiving treatment for symptoms.

In a very small number of cases — between one in a hundred and one in a thousand — the polio virus attacks the nerves in the spine and at the base of the brain. This can cause paralysis, usually in the legs. If the respiratory muscles are affected, the disease can be fatal.

Vaccination is the only way to prevent polio.

In Brazil, all children under five years of age must be vaccinated according to a routine vaccination schedule and in the annual national campaign. The vaccination schedule against poliomyelitis consists of three doses of the injectable vaccine (at 2, 4 and 6 months) and two more booster doses with the droplet vaccine.

This droplet vaccine was created in Brazil by the American-Polish scientist Albert Bruce Sabin (1906-1993).

Poliomyelitis is considered eradicated in Brazil. The last case of poliomyelitis in Brazil was confirmed in March 1989, in Paraíba. The WHO certified the eradication of the disease in the country in 1994.

But according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Brazil is on the list of countries where there is a risk of a return of poliomyelitis.

BrazilBolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Paraguay, Suriname and Venezuela are the countries in the Americas with a high risk of a return of poliomyelitis, according to reports released by PAHO during the second half of 2021. According to the entity, the low rate of vaccination in these places represents a danger for the entire continent, which has not recorded a single case of the disease for exactly 30 years.

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