Polio virus detected in London sewage; no cases reported

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LONDON — The United Kingdom declared a rare “national incident” after traces of the highly contagious polio virus were found in sewage in London, the government said.

Britain, like many developed nations, has been virtually polio-free since the 1980s due to widespread uptake of the vaccine. So far, no cases have been reported.

However, its health security agency and medical regulator said in a statement on Wednesday that authorities had found traces of poliovirus in sewage samples collected from the London Beckton Sewage Treatment Works, as part of “routine surveillance”. The wastewater treatment plant covers a population of around 4 million in the north and east of the capital.

“Investigations are underway after several closely related viruses were found in sewage samples taken between February and May,” the statement said.

The detection suggests that it is likely that “there has been some spread between closely related people in north and east London and they are now shedding the type 2 poliovirus strain in their faeces,” the statement said.

Vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2, unlike the wild type, is a weakened form of the live virus used in oral polio vaccines. Many countries, including the UK and the US, have stopped using the oral vaccine as it can spread to unvaccinated people. But it is still common in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

The vaccine-derived poliovirus detected in the UK “can on rare occasions cause serious illness, including paralysis, in people who are not fully vaccinated,” British health officials said.

So far, the polio virus has only been detected in sewage samples, but investigations are ongoing to establish if any community transmission is taking place.

Like other nations, Britain is also dealing with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and cases of monkeypox.

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The UK was declared polio-free by the World Health Organization in 2003 and the last case of wild or natural polio was in 1984, according to the government.

“Vaccine-derived poliovirus is rare and the risk to the general public is extremely low,” Vanessa Saliba, a consultant epidemiologist at the UK Health Security Agency, said in a statement.

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

Poliomyelitis, or poliomyelitis, is a disabling and life-threatening infectious disease that invades the nervous system and is spread primarily through contamination with fecal matter.

There is no cure, but vaccines since the 1960s, mainly in childhood, have changed the rules of the game and have allowed many countries to eradicate wild polio. The UK maintains vaccination coverage of more than 95 percent, the government said, largely through a routine childhood immunization programme.

The UK’s health safety agency says it typically detects between one and three “poliovirus isolates per year” in sewage, but they are typically single and unrelated. “In this case, the isolates identified between February and June 2022 are genetically related. This has led to the need to investigate the extent of transmission,” he added.

The most likely scenario is that a recently vaccinated person enters the UK from a country where an oral polio vaccine has been used. The UK stopped such oral vaccines in 2004, officials said.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted that “surveillance, vaccination and investment in #EndPolio is critical,” following news of the UK announcement.

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The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which works to end all wild and vaccine-related cases of the virus, said that although largely eradicated, the disease remains endemic in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“It is important that all countries, particularly those with a high volume of travel and contact with polio-affected countries and areas, strengthen surveillance to rapidly detect any new virus importation and facilitate a rapid response,” the group said in a statement. a declaration.

Meanwhile, health officials in London are urging parents to ensure young children are fully vaccinated to prevent any outbreaks. The National Health Service will start contacting parents of children under 5 in the capital who are not up to date on their vaccinations, the government said.

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