Poliovirus identified in London sewage, says UK health agency

Poliovirus identified in London sewage, says UK health agency

Investigations are under way after a number of closely related viruses were found in Beckton Sewage Treatment Works wastewater samples taken between February and May, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said in a statement on Wednesday.

“It is normal for 1 to 3 ‘vaccine-like’ polioviruses to be detected each year in UK sewage samples, but these have always been single finds that were not detected again,” the UKHSA said.

“These previous detections occurred when an individual vaccinated abroad with live oral polio vaccine returned or traveled to the UK and briefly ‘shed’ traces of the vaccine-like poliovirus in their faeces,” it added.

The recent samples raised alarm as the virus “continued to evolve and is now classified as a ‘vaccine-derived’ poliovirus type 2 (VDPV 2), which can rarely cause serious illness, such as paralysis, in people who are not fully vaccinated.” the UKHSA said.

No cases of the virus have been reported and the risk to the public is considered low. But Vanessa Saliba, a UKHSA consultant epidemiologist, urged the public to check that their polio vaccinations are up to date.

“Most of the UK population will be protected from childhood vaccination, but in some communities with low vaccination coverage, people may remain at risk,” Saliba said in the statement.

“The detection of a VDPV2 suggests that there is likely to have been some spread between closely related people in north and east London and that they are now shedding the type 2 poliovirus strain in their faeces,” the statement added.

Major global vaccination campaigns to eradicate wild poliovirus have long been under way. The UKHSA said the last case of wild polio contracted in the UK was confirmed in 1984, and the UK was declared polio-free in 2003.

Vaccine-derived polioviruses, such as those recently identified in London, come from the weakened poliovirus in the live oral polio vaccine used in some parts of the world.

Those viruses can change over time to behave more like the wild virus, and vaccine-derived poliovirus can spread, especially among unvaccinated people.

Symptoms of polio include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiff neck, pain in extremities, and, in a very small percentage of cases, paralysis, which is usually permanent. There is no cure for polio.

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