On Wednesday, 22 June the UK Health Security Agency announced the polio virus had been detected in several sewage samples in the London area.
The UK hasn’t seen a community outbreak of polio since the 1970s and the last detected case of it naturally occurring was back in 1984.
Health officials insist the current risk to the population is low, but doctors and medical professionals are on alert.
Polio is a contagious disease and for some it can be extremely serious. The virus spreads through contact with the stools (‘poo’) of an infected person or less commonly, when the person coughs or sneezes.
Most people with the infection have no symptoms but some feel like they have the flu with:
· a high temperature
· sore throat
· stomach pain
· aching muscles
· feeling sick
For a small percentage of infected people (one in a thousand to one in a hundred) can develop more serious issues such as paralysis when the virus attacks the nervous system. Normally movement returns gradually over time, but often limbs never fully recover and can remain weak and less developed. Polio is life-threatening where it causes paralysis of the muscles used for breathing.
There is no cure for polio and it can only be prevented by vaccination.
“By encouraging polio vaccine take up, the risk to the public will remain low” commented Kripen Dhrona, Chief Executive of the British Polio Fellowship.
“Polio will not be defeated until all traces of the virus are eradicated. We can only do this by keeping up the vaccination programme. I urge the government to ensure the health services in the UK have the resources they need to ensure any vaccine demand can be met.”
Today, polio is part of the NHS childhood immunisation programme and there are five doses in total. It is offered at age:
· eight, 12 and 16 weeks old as part of the 6-in-1 vaccine
· three years and four months old as part of the 4-in-1 (DTaP/IPV) pre-school booster
· 14 years old as part of the 3-in-1 (Td/IPV) teenage booster
“People need to have the full series of vaccinations to be fully immunised against polio, but you can have a vaccination at any point if you've never had one before. I encourage anyone who is unsure about whether they have been vaccinated, to contact their GP surgery” Dhrona continued.
The polio virus can affect people in different ways as indicated above and people should seek medical advice if uncertain.