Health authorities in Britain have declared a national incident after finding evidence suggesting local spread of poliovirus in London. Specifically, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), in collaboration with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), found the poliovirus in wastewater samples collected by the London Beckton Sewage Treatment Works in the North and East of the capital.
Discovered between February and May, in reality, polio is found in London sewers every year (even several times per year). This time, however, the case is different and the authorities asked us to pay more attention. There are indeed concerns that the infection could spread and cause harm, particularly among young children who are not vaccinated against the disease. Samples taken in that period of time suggest that the virus has indeed spread between a small number of people, possibly in an extended family in the capital.
Great Britain was declared "polio-free" in 2003 while its latest case of polio dates back to 1984. Although health authorities are talking about a national incident, no cases of polio have been identified so far. However, further investigations aim to establish whether there is transmission within the community.
Polio, or poliomyelitis, is a highly infectious viral disease that mostly affects children under five. The majority of the UK population is protected from poliovirus through childhood vaccinations. Nationwide vaccination levels are above the 90% needed to prevent outbreaks, but London's coverage rates among the under-twos has dipped below that in recent years. This means that in some communities with low vaccination coverage people may be at risk.
How can a person come in contact with the poliovirus? As explained by the Guardian, the virus spreads through the faecal-oral route, meaning that people shed the virus in their faeces and pass it on when their hands become contaminated in the toilet. It can also spread through contaminated water and food, and less commonly through coughs and sneezes.
So far, no cases of polio or related paralysis have been reported in the UK. And the danger to the general public is considered low. However, public health officials are urging people to make sure that they and their children are up to date with their polio vaccinations.
Some accused the current political regulations of being extremely inefficient: the endless mismanagement of disease control in this country is disastrous. Covid, monkeypox, mysterious adolescent hepatitis and now polio. The Government is taking us back to the Victorian age.
Written by Paige Trimbly