Polio is not back in England. There have been no clinical cases of wild polio in England. The last case of wild polio in the UK was in 1984 and the UK was declared polio-free by the WHO in 2003.
Since February 2022 traces of type 2 poliovirus have been detected in sewage samples in North and East London. It has been detected in sewage in Barnet, Brent, Camden, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey, Islington and Waltham Forest.
As part of routine surveillance, it is normal for 1 to 3 ‘vaccine-like’ polioviruses to be detected each year in UK sewage samples when an individual 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 several closely related viruses have been found in sewage samples taken between February and May. The level of poliovirus found and the high genetic diversity among the PV2 isolates suggests that there is some level of virus transmission in these boroughs which may extend to the adjacent areas. This suggests that transmission has gone beyond a close network of a few individuals.
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 polio virus found in London should not pose any risk to those who are fully vaccinated. However, whilst it is spreading, there is a small chance that those who have not been fully vaccinated, or those who cannot respond well to vaccines, could be at risk of catching polio. The good news is that we have picked this virus up early and we want to act now to protect as many people as we can. It is important that children are vaccinated against polio so they are protected and to reduce the risk of the virus continuing to spread. Please come forward as soon as your child is invited.