A national incident has been declared in the UK as the first sign of polio in the country in over 40 years has been detected in London’s sewer system.
The virus was detected during routine testing of sewage waste in London, prompting the UK Health Security Agency to inform the public.
Health officials warned that the paralyzing virus could be spreading in Britain again and urged the public to make sure they vaccinate themselves and their children.
While the virus is usually mild for most people, manifesting as a fever-like cold with symptoms including headaches, a high temperature, vomiting and a stiff neck, in around 1 in 100 polio can infect the brain and spinal cord, leading to paralysis and sometimes breathing difficulties, which can be life threatening.
The paralysis is usually not permanent and muscle movement usually resumes after weeks or months.
Just in case there are some who never lived through a polio outbreak. In the 40s/50s many hospitals had wards like this. Every one of those machines had a child inside being assisted with their breathing. pic.twitter.com/uRHNhmuu5K
— David Milne (@DavidMilne10) June 22, 2022
It can be spread through poor hand hygiene or by an infecting individual coughing and sneezing.
Britain was declared polio-free in 2-15, with the last ‘wild case’ was detected in 1984, meaning this will be the first sign of the virus since the 1980s.
During the early 1950s, before the vaccine, around 8,000 British citizens suffered with paralytic poliomyelitis.
The virus was slowly eradicated in most countries in Europe and North America after a prolonged mass vaccination effort. Effective vaccinations for polio became available in the 1950s and 60s, and international governments encouraged citizens to take the jab en masse.
This resulted in the eradication of the virus across most of the Western world, although it is still prominent in Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan and other African nations.
The USA has been polio free since the late 1970s, and the national vaccination rate is around 82 percent.
Although the polio vaccine is a routine jab for British children, meaning most people are already protected against the virus there, there is a lower uptake in London, particularly among ethnic minority groups.
In some areas in the city, less than a third children have had the first vaccine, and about a quarter having missed the 24-months booster.
According to the National Health Service data, black Brits are the least likely to take up vaccination offers, with 77.8 percent “very unlikely” to be jabbed.
In Hillingdon, London, which has an approximately 50 percent non-white British population, only 35 percent of teenagers had been vaccinated against polio – the worst uptake in Britain.
Consultant epidemiologist at the UKHS Dr. Vanessa Saliba said the British public should check to see if they’d been vaccinated:
“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.
“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.
“We are urgently investigating to better understand the extent of this transmission and the NHS has been asked to swiftly report any suspected cases to the UKHSA.”
According to the UKHS, the virus could be spreading in a small, family community within London and further testing is taking place across the city’s sewage systems.