Polio virus detected in sewage from North and East London
Traces of the polio virus have been found during a routine sewage inspection in London. The UKHSA has consequently declared a national incident, and an investigation is now underway to protect the public, who are being urged to ensure they are up to date with their polio vaccines.
Over the past four months, the UKHSA has found the polio virus in samples collected from the Beckton sewage works, which serves a population of around four million in North and East London. Officials believe there has been some spread between closely linked individuals in the area, most likely between extended family members.
Among those particularly urged to update their polio vaccines are the parents of young children who may have missed an immunisation opportunity.
Dr Vanessa Saliba, Consultant Epidemiologist at UKHSA said: “Vaccine-derived poliovirus has the potential to spread, particularly in communities where vaccine uptake is lower. 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.”
As part of routine surveillance, it is common for up to three ‘vaccinelike’ polioviruses to be detected each year in UK sewage samples, the government shared. However, these instances have always been one-off findings, not detected again, and the previous detections occurred when an individual vaccinated overseas with the live oral polio vaccine (OPV) returned, or travelled, to the UK. Here, traces of the vaccine-like polio virus can be ‘shed’.
“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,” Dr Saliba concluded.
Investigations are underway after several closely-related viruses were found in sewage samples taken between the months of February and May, 2022. The virus has continued to evolve, and is now classified as a ‘vaccine-derived’ poliovirus type 2 (VDPV2).