For the first time in decades, public health officials in the U.K. are declaring a national health incident after routine surveillance of north and east London's wastewater revealed evidence of community poliovirus transmission.
"Investigations are underway after several closely related viruses were found in sewage samples taken between February and May," the U.K. Health Security Agency said in a press release. "The virus has continued to evolve and is now classified as a 'vaccine-derived' poliovirus type 2 (VDPV2), which on rare occasions can cause serious illness, such as paralysis, in people who are not fully vaccinated."
The situation has been declared a national health incident in the country; but so far, no cases of the disease or related paralysis have been reported.
"The detection of a VDPV2 suggests it is likely there has been some spread between closely linked individuals in North and East London and that they are now shedding the type 2 poliovirus strain in their feces," the press release read. "The virus has only been detected in sewage samples and no associated cases of paralysis have been reported — but investigations will aim to establish if any community transmission is occurring."
According to The Guardian, tests on U.K. sewage naturally pick up a handful of unrelated polioviruses each year. Often these come from people who have taken an oral polio vaccine in another country who then travel to the U.K. After taking the oral vaccine, the travelers can shed the weakened live virus used in the vaccine through their feces for several weeks.
But the London samples detected in February raised the alarm because they were related and contained mutations suggesting the virus was evolving, spreading from person to person.
So far, reports of the discovery allude that a single person returning to the U.K. after having the oral polio vaccine may be spreading it locally. While it is unclear how much the virus has spread, it may be confined to a single household.
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