Polio may be spreading in the U.K. for the first time in nearly 40 years after mutating from a live vaccine, health chiefs warned today as they declared a “national incident”. MailOnline has more.
Officials have found traces of a vaccine-derived version of the virus in sewage samples in parts of London and say it is “likely” transmitting within the community.
Parents are being urged to ensure their children are up to date with their polio vaccinations, particularly after the pandemic when school immunisation schemes were disrupted.
Polio spreads through coughs and sneezes or contact with objects contaminated with faeces, causing permanent paralysis in around one in 100 cases. Children are at a higher risk.
The virus was detected several times between February and May and has continued to mutate, according to the U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
It is thought someone vaccinated with the live polio vaccine – which uses a weakened version of the virus – travelled to the U.K. and shed part of the pathogen in their stool.
But health officials insist the risk to the public overall is “extremely low”, with urgent investigations now underway to find anyone who has been infected.
The last time someone caught polio within the U.K. was in 1984 but there have been dozens of imported cases since then. Britain was declared polio-free in 2003…
No cases have been confirmed yet but the UKHSA said it is likely there has been some spread between closely linked individuals in North and East London.
It is normal for traces of the virus to be occasionally detected as part of routine testing of sewage, but the findings are normally a one-off.
These normally come from people who were vaccinated with the live oral vaccine overseas and then travelled to the U.K. People given the oral vaccine can shed the weakened live virus used in the vaccine in their faeces for several weeks. Most countries have switched to polio jabs that use inactivated pieces of virus but some developing nations still rely on the live vaccine.
The London samples have caused concern because they were from different people and contained two mutations that suggest the virus is evolving as it spreads between people. It is unclear how far the virus has spread but it is hoped the outbreak will be contained to a single household or family.
Polio used to paralyse millions of children around the world every year in the 1940s and 1950s and consign thousands to ‘iron lungs’ — large and expensive machines that helped them breathe.
Most people show no signs of infection at all but about one in 20 people have minor symptoms such as fever, muscle weakness, headache, nausea and vomiting. Around one in 50 patients develop severe muscle pain and stiffness in the neck and back. Less than 1% of polio cases result in paralysis and one in 10 of those result in death.
Hepatitis in children (which has gone quiet now), monkeypox mainly among gay men (also dropped off the news cycle), and now polio – why does every month bring another outbreak of a strange disease? Is it coincidence, is something causing them all, or are we just paying more attention to such things?
Worth reading in full.