Health · June 22, 2022

London sewage samples contain poliovirus, officials say

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

Britain’s Heath Security Agency (UKHSA) – which works with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) – said it had found poliovirus in sewage samples from north and east London collected by the London Beckton Sewage Treatment Works.

It is normal for one to three ‘vaccine-like’ polioviruses to be detected in UK sewage samples each year, but these have always been ‘one-offs’.

The earlier evidence occurred when a person who had been vaccinated abroad with live oral polio vaccine (OPV) returned to or traveled to the UK and briefly ‘shed’ traces of the vaccine-like poliovirus in their faeces.

Commuters walk across London Bridge during warm weather in London, June 17, 2022.

Commuters walk across London Bridge during warm weather in London, June 17, 2022.
(REUTERS / Henry Nicholls)

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

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

The British Museum (bottom left), the Walkie Talkie (top centre), Tower Bridge (top centre-right), The Shard (right) and the City of London (left) from the BT Tower in Fitzrovia, London.

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

“The detection of VDPV2 suggests that there was likely some spread between closely related people in North and East London and that they are now shedding the type 2 strain of poliovirus 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 determine if community transmission is occurring,” a statement said.

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

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

In a statement, UKHSA consulting epidemiologist Dr. Vanessa Saliba that no suspected cases have been reported or confirmed by the National Health Service (NHS) to date.

Commuters walk across London Bridge during warm weather in London, June 17, 2022.

Commuters walk across London Bridge during warm weather in London, June 17, 2022.
(REUTERS / Henry Nicholls)

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

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Vaccination coverage for childhood vaccines has fallen across the country.