According to several recent news articles, Poliovirus has been found in a higher-than-average number of London sewage samples, but what is it, why is it there and what can we do to be safe?
What is Poliovirus?
Poliovirus is a positive-strand non-enveloped virus that exists as three distinct serotypes (1, 2, and 3). Poliovirus is the causative agent of poliomyelitis, which can cause nerve injury leading to partial or full paralysis. Many infected individuals are asymptomatic but can transmit the virus to others. Transmission is mainly by the faecal-oral route and can, therefore; be reduced by good standards of hygiene. However mass vaccination programs have been the mainstay of prevention leading to the near eradication of the virus globally.
Why is it being found in London sewage samples?
Although we can’t be certain, some scientists have suggested that the poliovirus is being found in the sewers, originated from someone who has been vaccinated outside of the UK with the live oral polio vaccine, something that hasn’t been used within the UK since 2004. After being vaccinated and coming back into the UK, the person would then have shed traces of the virus from their stomach which would have ended up in the sewers.
In very rare cases, this form of the poliovirus can be transmitted to other people and mutate into a ‘vaccine-derived’ version of polio. Although this version of the virus is tamer than the original, it can still cause serious illness in people that are unvaccinated.
What can we do to be safe?
In the UK, we use an inactivated polio vaccine as part of our routine childhood vaccinations. Children are given the polio vaccine three times, the first one before they turn one, another when they are three, and a final one at fourteen. Recent figures indicate that over 92% of the UK have been vaccinated against the poliovirus, suggesting that the risk of becoming seriously ill if you come into contact with the virus is low.
The UK Health Security Agency have commented that parents should ensure their children have been fully immunised against the disease.
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