Wednesday 10 August 2022 12:13 PM Polio IS spreading in Britain for first time in 40 years: Health chiefs launch ... trends now

Wednesday 10 August 2022 12:13 PM Polio IS spreading in Britain for first time in 40 years: Health chiefs launch ... trends now
Wednesday 10 August 2022 12:13 PM Polio IS spreading in Britain for first time in 40 years: Health chiefs launch ... trends now

Wednesday 10 August 2022 12:13 PM Polio IS spreading in Britain for first time in 40 years: Health chiefs launch ... trends now

Under-10s in London are set to be offered an urgent polio booster vaccine as health chiefs confirm the paralysis-causing virus is spreading in the capital.

Health chiefs declared a national incident in June after samples of the virus, which paralyses up to one in 100 infected people and kills in rare cases, were detected in the capital's sewage.

No infections in people have been detected in the UK but experts believe it is transmitting unchecked in London because it has been repeatedly detected in waste water. 

The UK Health Security Agency today confirmed that London has logged 116 poloviruses from 19 sewage samples since February, with at least one positive sample in eight north east boroughs — Barnet, Brent, Camden, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey, Islington and Waltham Forest.

The level of the virus spotted and the diversity of the samples suggests the virus is transmitting in the population and has 'gone beyond a close network of a few individuals, it said.

The UKHSA announced that the 900,000 one to nine-year-olds in Greater London will be offered a booster poliovirus vaccine within the next month to increase protection against paralysis and help reduce the spread.

Health chiefs noted that the risk to the public is low because most people are already protected from vaccinations given in childhood. However, uptake is as low as 55 per cent in the boroughs where the virus is spreading.

The above map, based on UKHSA data, looks at the share of Year 9s who had all three polio jabs in the 2020/2021 academic year. The final polio booster is offered to all children by the age of 14 as part of the NHS school vaccination programme

The above map, based on UKHSA data, looks at the share of Year 9s who had all three polio jabs in the 2020/2021 academic year. The final polio booster is offered to all children by the age of 14 as part of the NHS school vaccination programme

The polio vaccine is given at age eight, 12 and 16 weeks as part of the six-in-one vaccine and then again at three years as part of a pre-school booster. The final course is given at age 14. The World Health Organization has set the threshold of a successful school jabs programme at 95 per cent uptake, which England is failing to hit by all accounts

The polio vaccine is given at age eight, 12 and 16 weeks as part of the six-in-one vaccine and then again at three years as part of a pre-school booster. The final course is given at age 14. The World Health Organization has set the threshold of a successful school jabs programme at 95 per cent uptake, which England is failing to hit by all accounts

The virus was detected at the Beckton sewage treatment works, which covers a population of four million in north and east London

The virus was detected at the Beckton sewage treatment works, which covers a population of four million in north and east London

Under the polio booster campaign, the NHS will contact parents in London when it's their child's turn to come forward for a booster dose, which are set to be dished out at GP surgeries.

Parents have been told to take up this offer 'as soon as possible', even if their child is up-to-date with their jabs.

The programme will start in the areas where polio has been detected and vaccination rates are low, before being rolled out across all boroughs.

Booster jabs are in addition to the NHS childhood vaccination catch-up campaign, launched across London in June to boost uptake. 

On top of the polio samples confirmed in eight borough, health chiefs also spotted lower concentrations and frequency in locations around Beckton in south London.

But it is not yet clear if this is because people are infected in these areas or if the findings are from people visiting the area from affected boroughs.

The last case of polio in the UK was detected in 1984 thanks to the success of the vaccine. Before it was rolled out, the virus paralysed 8,000 Britons every year. 

Dr Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at UKHSA, said: 'No cases of polio have been reported and for the majority of the population, who are fully vaccinated, the risk is low. 

'But we know the areas in London where the poliovirus is being transmitted have some of the lowest vaccination rates. This is why the virus is spreading in these communities and puts those residents not fully vaccinated at greater risk.'

She added: 'It is vital parents ensure their children are fully vaccinated for their age.

'Following JCVI advice all children aged one to nine years in London need to have a dose of polio vaccine now – whether it’s an extra booster dose or just to catch up with their routine vaccinations. 

'It will ensure a high level of protection from paralysis. This may also help stop the virus spreading further.'

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said parents and guardians 'will be concerned' about the detection of polio in London but noted that 'nobody has been diagnosed with the virus and the risk to the wider population is low'.

He said the rollout will start in 'the most impacted boroughs, so we can ensure they have the best possible protection and we reduce the chances of transmission'.

Mr Barclay said: 'We know many countries, including Belgium and Portugal, offer an additional dose as part of their childhood vaccination programme, and the JCVI has considered international data on safety and effectiveness in forming their recommendation, which I have accepted.

'Vaccines offer the best defence to children, and those around them, so I would encourage families to ensure they are up to date with their routine jabs, and to come forward for the polio booster as soon as they are contacted by the NHS.' 

Polio dates back to 1500 BC, crippled rulers in Ancient Egypt and paralysed thousands of children for decades before being almost entirely wiped out by a vaccine that used a weakened version of virus: The disease's history laid bare

You could be forgiven for thinking polio was a disease resigned to history.

The paralysis-causing disease was officially eradicated in the UK in 2003 and the last domestic outbreak was in the 1980s. But dwindling vaccination rates, in part due to complacency, appear to have allowed polio to creep back in decades later.

The archaic disease has existed as long as human civilisation itself, with the earliest records dating back to ancient Egypt.

But it was until the 1800s that outbreaks began to really take off.

Millions of Brits will remember the devastation polio caused in the early 1950s and why it was one of the most feared infections in the world. The UK was rocked by a series of polio epidemics in the mid-20th century that saw thousands crippled by the virus each year.

Mary Berry, the ex-Great British Bake Off judge, was hospitalised after contracting polio aged 13, leaving her with a twisted spine and damaged left hand.

Despite being eradicated in most of the world, it still spreads in two countries — Afghanistan and Pakistan — while parts of Africa suffer flare-ups of vaccine-derived versions of the virus.

Here, MailOnline takes a look at the history of the virus: 

1500 BC

Polio epidemics, when the virus is constantly spreading within a community, did not start happening until the late 1800s.

But records suggest it dates back to as early as 1570 BC in ancient Egypt.

This is based on a drawing on a stele — a stone slab — which shows a priest with a withered leg and using a cane to help him walk.

And an Egyptian ruler called Siptah, who died in 1188 BC, is thought to have had polio based on his deformed left leg and foot, spotted by archaeologists who found his mummy in 1905. 

1700s 

But apart from these two incidents, polio largely vanished from the record books until it was logged in in 1789 by London-based Dr Michael Underwood. 

He published the first clear description of polio in infants, who are particularly vulnerable to the disease, in a medical textbook, calling it 'debility of the lower extremities'.

Records show polio dates back to as early as 1570 BC in ancient Egypt. This is based on a drawing on a stele - a stone slab (pictured) - which shows a priest with a withered leg and using a cane to help him walk

Records show polio dates back to as early as 1570 BC in ancient Egypt. This is based on a drawing on a stele - a stone slab (pictured) - which shows a priest with a withered leg and using a cane to help him walk

1800s 

In the early 1800s, a handful of polio cases were sporadically reported in medical journals. 

But scientists believe people were commonly exposed to the virus in the typical unhygienic environments of the time, especially when they were young.

However, polioviruses started causing problems in Europe and North America at the end of the 1800s. This was, bizarrely, blamed on sanitation improving. 

Polio spreads through consuming an infected person's faecal matter — which can happen as a result of poor hand hygiene. 

While better water and sewage systems saw the demise of typhoid and cholera, outbreaks of polio became more common.

Three-quarter of those who become infected don't have symptoms. But around a quarter suffer a flu-like illness, including a sore throat, fever and tiredness. 

Up to one in 200 will develop more serious symptoms that affect their brain and spinal cord, including paralysis. 

Professor Ian Jones, a virologist at Reading University, explained the virus 'wasn’t a problem until hygiene improved'. 

Previously, low levels of infection would have given immunity to people but the unforeseen circumstance of better living conditions was that this declined and polio 'took off', he said. 

Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline that although polio has been around for centuries or millennia, it was only during the early part of the 20th century that big epidemics of paralytic polio took off. 

He explained: 'When every child got infected with poliovirus in the first couple of years of life you still saw some paralysis but it was only when infections were delayed until older age that such paralysis became more common. 

'Young children who contract poliovirus infection generally suffer only mild symptoms, but delay those infections to teens and adulthood and paralysis becomes more common.'

The first epidemic struck more than a dozen people in Norway in 1868, while the second, which occurred 13 years later, caused a similar number of confirmed cases in Sweden. An outbreak in the US in 1894 saw 132 people infected. 

Early 1900s

It was in 1916 that the first large-scale epidemic took hold in Brooklyn, New York, with more than 9,000 cases and 2,000 deaths. 

The outbreak spread to the rest of the US and led to more than 27,000 cases and 6,000 polio deaths that year.

Newspapers published the names and addresses of infected people, 'keep out' notices were nailed to their doors

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