Polio virus detected in London sewage samples – will this result in an influx of Vaccinations for GPs?

On 22 June 2022, the UK’s Health authorities declared a national incident regarding the detection of the polio virus in London sewage and as such, have informed the World Health Organisation (“WHO”).

This is following the United Kingdom’s Health Security Agency (“UKHSA”) finding traces of the polio virus in samples collected from the London Beckton Sewage Treatment Works, which is connected to four million people in North and East London. Each year, it is common for polioviruses to be detected in UK sewage samples during routine  sewage surveillance. However, this is the first time a cluster of genetically-linked samples have been found repeatedly over a period of several months, as opposed to one-off findings that were not detected again.

What is Polio virus? 

The Polio virus is a rare disease common in the 1950s but eradicated in the UK in 2003 due to the success and high uptake of polio vaccines. The disease is spread after a person does not wash their hands properly after using the toilet and then touches food or water consumed by others, or by coughing or sneezing. The majority of people will not have symptoms and will fight the virus off, without even realising its effects or presence. However, a small number will experience flu-like symptoms for up to three weeks. In rare  cases, 1 in 100 or 1 in 1000, the polio virus can attack nerves in a person’s  spine and base of their brain, subsequently causing paralysis in the legs and it can sometimes be life threatening.

What is the effect on GPs?

Jane Clegg, Director of Nursing and Deputy Regional Chief Nurse of NHS England,, said the health service would be contacting parents of children aged under five in London who are not up to date with their childhood vaccinations. She stated:

“Parents can also check their child’s vaccination status in their red book, and people should contact their GP practice to book a vaccination should they or their child not be fully up to date.”

The take-up rate of the first three doses of a polio vaccine is about 86% in London, well below national target levels, whilst the rest of the UK over 92%. Whilst there have been no actual cases of polio detected and confirmed yet, it will be closely monitored and it is likely that there will be an increased demand for the Polio vaccine in the coming weeks and months which will have an impact on GPs in relation to their workload.

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