UK declares ‘national incident’ after traces of polio virus found in sewage

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

Britain, like many developed countries, has been largely polio-free since the 1980s due to high use of the vaccine. So far, no cases have been reported.

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

“Investigations are ongoing following the discovery of several closely related viruses in sewage samples taken between February and May,” the statement said.

The detection suggests it is likely ‘there has been some spread between closely related individuals in north and east London and they are now clearing the poliovirus type 2 strain in their faeces’ , the statement said.

Vaccine-derived type 2 poliovirus – as opposed to the wild or natural strain – is a weakened form of the live virus used in oral polio vaccines. Many countries, including the UK and the US, have abandoned the use of the oral vaccine because it can spread to unvaccinated people. But it remains common in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

Vaccine-derived poliovirus detected in the UK “can on rare occasions cause serious illness, such as paralysis, in people who are not fully immunized”, UK health authorities have said.

So far, the polio virus has only been detected in sewage samples, but investigations are ongoing to determine if community transmission is occurring.

Like other countries, Britain is also grappling 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 contracted 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, 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 promptly report any suspected cases,” she said, adding that “no cases have been reported or confirmed to date. ‘now”.

Polio, or poliomyelitis, is a debilitating and potentially fatal infectious disease that invades the nervous system and spreads primarily through contamination with feces.

There is no cure, but vaccinations since the 1960s, mainly in childhood, have changed the game by allowing many countries to eradicate wild poliomyelitis. The UK maintains vaccination coverage of over 95%, the government has said, largely thanks to a program of routine childhood vaccinations.

The UK Health Safety Agency says it normally detects between one and three “poliovirus isolates a year” in sewage, but they are normally one-off and unrelated to each other. “In this case, isolates identified between February and June 2022 are genetically linked. This prompted investigation into the extent of transmission,” he added.

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

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

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

“It is important that all countries, especially 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 response. fast,” the band said in a statement.

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

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