Brits Told to Check Polio Vaccine Stats as Once-Eradicated Virus Returns to UK
12:39 GMT 22.06.2022 (Updated: 13:29 GMT 22.06.2022)
© AP Photo / Fareed KhanA health worker gives a polio vaccine to a child in Karachi, Pakistan
© AP Photo / Fareed Khan
The last 'wild' case of Polio in the UK was recorded in 1984, and the country was declared free from the disease in 2003. But the World Health Organisation's UK testing unit has found genetically-consistent samples over four months at a London sewage works.
UK residents have been urged to check they are vaccinated against polio after the crippling virus was found at an east London sewage works.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) issued a warning on Wednesday, telling healthcare workers to report any suspected cases of acute flaccid paralysis or acute flaccid myelitis (AFP or AFM) not known to be from non-infectious causes.
That was after the virus, which can leave victims paralysed, was detected at the Beckton Sewage Treatment Works between February and June of this year — 19 years after polio was declared eradicated in the UK.
Family GPs, school nurses and other responsible for vaccinating children were asked to check that all patients were up-to-date with their polio jabs — especially in areas where uptake is 85 per cent or less.
They were advised to focus on "newly registered children and adults with a particular emphasis on new migrants, asylum seekers and refugees" and "bring them up to date with the UK schedule at the earliest opportunity".
“Vaccine-derived poliovirus has the potential to spread, particularly in communities where vaccine uptake is lower," said UKHSA consultant epidemiologist Dr Vanessa Saliba.
“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," she added. “Most of the UK population will be protected from vaccination in childhood, but in some communities with low vaccine coverage, individuals may remain at risk."
The UKHSA statement said the virus likely arrived from a country where the oral polio vaccine (OPV) is still given in "supplemental" campaigns — listing Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria as candidates. The UK stopped using the oral vaccine in 2004.
Polio was also recently detected in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata.
The rate of polio vaccination in the British capital is known to be well below the target 95 per cent coverage, with 10 per cent unvaccinated and 30 per cent failing to get the necessary booster in their teenage years.
The last 'wild' case of Polio in the UK was recorded in 1984, and the country was declared free from the disease in 2003.
The new potential outbreak was detected during routine sampling by the World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Specialised Polio Laboratory based at the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control in Hertfordshire. Polio is a disease of the digestive tract, mainly spread through poor hygiene, although it can also be transmitted by coughing and sneezing.
The UKHSA said while it was normal for isolated strains of poliovirus to be found in the UK sewage system, the samples taken at Beckton from February to June were "genetically related".
"This has prompted the need to investigate the extent of transmission of this virus in Northeast London," the statement said.