The UK Health Security Agency has issued a warning that the polio virus has resurfaced and may be spreading in London after it was declared eradicated 40 years ago.
Health officials warned today that polio may be spreading in the UK for the first time in nearly 40 years as they declared a “national incident.”
In some areas of London, sewage tests were found to contain traces of the virus, which authorities say is ‘likely’ spreading within the neighborhood.
In particular, during the pandemic when school vaccination programs were disrupted, parents are asked to make sure their children are up to date with their polio vaccinations.
The first of three polio vaccinations, which are required for all British children, should have been given as a baby, but uptake in London lags behind the rest of the nation.
One out of every 100 cases of polio results in permanent paralysis and is spread by coughing, sneezing, or touching objects that have been contaminated with faeces. Children are more vulnerable.
According to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), the virus was discovered many times between February and May and has since mutated.
It is believed that someone who had the live polio vaccine—which uses a weakened version of the virus—outside of the UK may have brought some of the pathogen with them in their stool.
However, health officials claim that the risk to the general public is “extremely low,” and they are currently conducting urgent investigations to identify any infected individuals.
There have been numerous imported cases since 1984, when the last case of polio occurred in the UK. In 2003, the United Kingdom was declared polio-free.
It happens as monkeypox, another rare viral disease that was formerly confined to areas of western and central Africa, is on the rise in London.
In samples taken from the London Beckton Sewage Treatment Works in Newham, the UKHSA claimed to have discovered “several closely related” polioviruses.
Although there have been no confirmed cases to date, the UKHSA stated that it is possible that some cases have spread among people who are deeply linked in North and East London.
The virus can occasionally be found in traces during routine sewage testing, but these findings are often one-offs.
Polio is a very contagious disease that can be transferred through bodily fluids like sneezes and coughs, as well as through contaminated food, water, clothing, and other items.
Patients are most contagious seven to ten days before and after the beginning of symptoms, the virus can live in the throat and intestines for up to six weeks.
However, it can spread to the spinal cord, where it can paralyze and weaken muscles.
The virus is more common in newborns and young children and occurs in unsanitary circumstances.
Polio has been completely eradicated throughout Europe, the Americas, Southeast Asia, and the Western Pacific. There are three strains of “wild” polio.
The last cases of types 2 and 3 were detected in 1999 and 2012, respectively, and eliminated thanks to a worldwide mass vaccination program.
Only two nations, Afghanistan and Pakistan, still have an ongoing type 1 wild polio outbreak.
According to the World Health Organization, cases have dropped from 350,000 in 1988 to just 33 reported cases in 2018.
However, there are still sporadic cases of polioviruses derived from vaccines.
The most prevalent variety is vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (VDPV2), which has been found in London. In 2020, there were around a thousand cases of VDPV2 worldwide.
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Wasn’t polio eradicated?
Wild polio comes in 3 variations type 1, type 2, and type 3.
Since it was discovered in Nigeria in November 2012, type three has not been found in any cases. Type two was completely eradicated in 1999.
These two strains have both been declared globally eradicated. However, type one is still exists in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Because of the polio vaccine, these types of polio have almost totally vanished.
However, the large – scale implementation has given rise to novel strains known as vaccine-derived polioviruses. These are strains that were first included into live vaccines, but they escaped into the general population and changed over time to act more like their wild counterparts.
How many people are infected?
Health officials have not yet found a confirmed case.
They have only found the virus in sewage samples. However, they claimed that sewage samples taken in North and East London between February and May contained multiple closely related polio viruses.
This implies that the infection has “likely” been transferred between linked people who are now shedding the strain.
The UK Health Security Agency is looking into if there is any community transmission. The cases are expected to be limited to a single household or extended family.
How does it spread?
Similar to Covid, it can spread through the inhalation of particles released while coughing or sneezing by an infected individual. But it can also be transmitted by ingesting contaminated food, drinking contaminated water, or touching contaminated objects.
Polio is especially likely to spread in areas with a large population, inadequate sanitation, and a greater rate of illnesses like diarrhea. Unvaccinated individuals have a higher risk of contracting the infection.
Because London has a lower uptake of the polio vaccine than the rest of the nation, there is some worry that the virus appears to be spreading there.
What does a national incident mean?
When a poliovirus originating from a vaccine is discovered in Britain, the UKHSA regulations state what should be done.
This gives health officials the go-ahead to organize a national response to control and coordinate how it responds.
It entails bringing together regional public health teams.
Despite the fact that the polio samples have only been found in London, health officials say it is crucial to make sure that other parts of the country are aware and take the appropriate precautions to protect the local population.
How is polio treated?
Polio has no known treatment, although vaccines can help prevent it. Treatment can only relieve symptoms and reduce the likelihood of a long-term condition.
The majority of cases are mild, and they typically go away with painkillers and rest. However, more severe cases would require a hospital stay where the patient would be assisted in breathing by equipment and given frequent stretches and exercises to help prevent long-term problems with their muscles and joints.
The iron lung, a respirator that looks like a “coffin on legs,” was used to treat polio in the 1920s. In that decade, it was first applied to save a virus-infected youngster who needed help breathing.
After suffering polio 70 years ago, Texas resident Paul Alexander, 76, is still in the machine today.
Can it kill?
Polio can kill in rare cases. But it is more famous for causing paralysis, which can lead to permanent disability and death. Up to a tenth of people who are paralysed by the virus die, as the virus affects the muscles that help them breathe.
Where did polio originate?
Polio epidemics, in which the virus spreads rapidly within a population, did not appear until the late 1800s.
However, according to scientists, it is a ancient disease that first affected people in Egypt in 1570 BC. This is based on art from that era that shows paralysis and weak limbs.
In 1789, a doctor from London became the first to describe infantile polio in detail in a medical textbook.