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The last case of wild polio in the UK was in 1984 and the country has been free of the virus since 2003. But the UK Health Security Agency has found polio in sewage samples collected from treatment works which serves around four million people in north and east London.
UKHSA officials are working on the theory that a person vaccinated abroad entered the UK early in 2022 and was shedding the virus.
That person has now passed it onto other, closely linked individuals in north-east London, who in turn are shedding the virus into their faeces.
Experts are looking at the possibility that just one family, or extended family, may be affected.
While it is normal for the virus to be picked up as isolated cases and not detected again, experts have raised the alarm after several genetically-linked samples were found at the Beckton plant by UKHSA and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency between February and May.
Previously, pharmacys in gainesville the virus has been picked up when a person vaccinated overseas with the live oral polio vaccine (OPV) returned or travelled to the UK and briefly shed traces of the vaccine-like poliovirus in their faeces.
However, the virus in the recent samples has evolved in the UK which stopped using OPV in 2004 and switched to inactivated polio vaccine.
This means it can be spread to people who are unvaccinated and who come into contact with the faeces or coughs and sneezes of an infected person.
Dr Vanessa Saliba, a consultant epidemiologist at UKHSA, said: “Vaccinederived poliovirus is rare and the risk to the public overall is extremely low.
“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.”
Sajid Javid has said he is “not particularly worried” about the virus.
The Health Secretary told BBC Radio 4’s PM show: “As a country, we have very high vaccination rates against polio. We’ve been declared polio-free since 2003 and we haven’t had any cases since then.”
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