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Poliovirus has been detected in London’s sewage, according to health officials.

The UK Health Safety Agency (UKHSA) – in conjunction with the Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) – said it had found poliovirus in sewage samples from the north and east London which had been collected by the London Beckton Sewage Treatment Works.

He said it is normal for one to three “vaccine-like” polioviruses to be detected each year in UK sewage samples, but these have always been “one-off finds”.

Previous detections occurred when someone vaccinated overseas with live oral polio vaccine (OPV) returned or traveled to the UK and briefly ‘threw’ traces of vaccine-like poliovirus into their saddles.

Commuters cross London Bridge in hot weather in London, June 17, 2022.
(REUTERS/Henry Nicholls)

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Investigations are ongoing after several closely related viruses were found in sewage samples taken from February to May.

The agency said the virus is now classified as “vaccine-derived” poliovirus type 2 (VDPV2), which can – rarely – cause more severe disease in people who are not fully vaccinated.

London sewage samples contain poliovirus, officials say

The British Museum (bottom left), Walkie Talkie (top centre), Tower Bridge (top center right), The Shard (right) and City of London (left) from the BT Tower in Fitzrovia, London.
(Kirsty O’Connor/PA Images via Getty Images)

“The detection of a VDPV2 suggests that it is likely that there has been some spread between closely related individuals in north and east London and that they are now shedding the poliovirus type 2 strain in their faeces. The virus has only been detected in sewage samples and no associated cases of paralysis have been reported – but investigations will aim to establish whether community transmission is occurring,” he said. in a press release.

The agency urged the public to ensure polio vaccines are up to date.

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The last case of wild polio contracted in the UK was confirmed in 1984 and it was declared polio-free in 2003.

In a statement, UKHSA consultant epidemiologist Dr Vanessa Saliba said no suspected cases had been reported or confirmed by the National Health Service (NHS) so far.

London sewage samples contain poliovirus, officials say

Commuters cross London Bridge in hot weather in London, June 17, 2022.
(REUTERS/Henry Nicholls)

“The majority of Londoners are fully protected against polio and will not need to take any further action, but the NHS will start contacting parents of children under 5 in London who are not up to date with their polio vaccinations to urge them to be protected,” said Jane Clegg, NHS chief nurse in London.

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Immunization coverage for the infant vaccine has declined nationwide.


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