LONDON (AP) — British health officials urged parents Wednesday to ensure their children are vaccinated against polio after the virus that causes the disease was found in London sewage in recent months.
Britain’s Health Security Agency said it believes the virus was “vaccine derived”, meaning it came from someone who received a live virus vaccine abroad. That person would have passed the virus to close contacts in London, who shed it in their faeces.
Britain stopped using the live-virus oral vaccine in 2004, later switching to an inactivated, killed-virus version.
Polio can cause paralysis in rare cases, and can be life-threatening. It was officially eradicated from Great Britain in 2003.
Authorities stressed that the risk to the public is “extremely low.” They also said the virus has only been detected in sewage samples, and no cases of paralysis have been reported.
In any case, they asked the inhabitants to check if their children have the complete vaccination schedules and contact their doctor if they are not sure.
“Most of Britain’s population will be protected by vaccination during childhood, but in some communities with low vaccination rates, there are individuals who could be at risk,” said Dr Vanessa Saliba, an epidemiologist at the health agency. .
“Vaccine-derived poliovirus has the potential to spread, particularly in communities where vaccination is lower,” he said.
Authorities are investigating the extent of community transmission and have established a “national incident” to review cases elsewhere as a preventative measure.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said he was not “particularly worried” by the news.
The polio vaccine is given to babies in Great Britain as part of a combination vaccine. Boosters are applied at 3 and 14 years of age.
Britain recorded its last case of naturally occurring polio in 1984.
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