People urged to check polio vaccinations are up to date after outbreak
- Credit: PA
Health officials are urging people in Suffolk to check their polio vaccinations after experts identified a small outbreak in London sewage.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has declared a national incident - but insist the risk to the general public remains low.
The polio virus, which was largely eradicated after a vaccine was invented in 1953, mainly affects children under five and causes paralysis in about one in 200 cases.
The contagious virus can be transmitted through coughs and sneezes, but also through food, water or objects that have been in contact with the faeces of someone infected with it.
It can live in an infected person's throat and intestines for weeks and they can spread it without experiencing any symptoms themselves.
The UKHSA found the virus in samples in the Beckton Sewage Treatment Works in east London between February and May.
Most people who get polio do not have symptoms but some suffer mild, flu-like issues such as a high temperature, extreme tiredness, headaches, vomiting, a stiff neck and muscle pain.
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The uptake of routine childhood jabs fell during the coronavirus pandemic but polio vaccine rates in Suffolk are among the highest in the country.
The percentage of children vaccinated against polio by their first birthday in Suffolk stands at 95.8% compared with 67.8% in the London borough of Hackney.
Andrew Reid, cabinet member for public health and public protection at Suffolk County Council, said: “Most of the UK population will be protected from polio, via vaccination in childhood.
"However, if you or your child are not up to date with your polio vaccinations it’s important you contact your GP to catch up. If you are unsure you can check your child’s vaccination status in their red book.”
Professor David Salisbury, chairman of the World Health Organisation global commission for certification of polio eradication, said: "It should not have come as a surprise that polio vaccine-derived viruses have been found in sewage in London.
"The most likely person to bring the virus would have been a child.
"The genetic changes in the virus imply that it has circulated amongst individuals, including possibly those who have been vaccinated with inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) as has been used for almost 20 years in the UK immunisation programme."