Polio: What is it and how is it spread?

Written by Smitha Mundasad and Philippa Roxby
health reporter

image source, Getty Images

British health officials say they have discovered the virus that causes polio. A worrisome number of sewage samples in London.

There are no recorded cases of people with the disease in the UK, but doctors are vigilant.

What is polio and how is it spread?

It can be a serious infection caused by a virus that spreads easily through contact with the feces (feces) of an infected person or less commonly through droplets when coughing or sneezing.

It mainly affects children under 5 years of age.

Most people who are infected have no symptoms, but some feel like they have the flu with symptoms such as:

A small number of infected people (one in a thousand to one in a hundred) develop a more serious problem with polio affecting the nervous system. This usually causes paralysis of the legs.

It is usually not permanent and movement often returns gradually.

However, it can be life-threatening, especially if the paralysis affects the muscles used for breathing.

spanking childimage source, Getty Images

At what age is the polio vaccination given?

The UK previously used a highly effective oral polio vaccine in the form of drops. He switched to a new injectable form.

The NHS provides 5 doses of 8 weeks to 14 years of age as part of their routine childhood immunizations.

It is provided in the following cases:

People need to get all of these vaccines to become fully immune to the disease.

If you have never been vaccinated, you can get vaccinated at any time.

Map showing how polio has been largely eradicated since 1988

How can I protect my children?

In the UK, you can check your child’s red book to make sure it’s up to date with a daily jab. If you forget, contact your GP.

Health officials say the first three injections provide good protection for young babies.

However, the first three doses are well below the target level at around 86% in London and above 92% in the rest of the UK.

This may be partly due to the fact that some populations in the capital move regularly, making it difficult to access timely vaccines.

Although most of the UK population is protected from childhood immunizations, individuals may be at risk in some communities with low immunization coverage.

Is polio a global problem?

Since 1988, the number of cases has decreased by more than 99%, from approximately 350,000 cases in more than 125 countries to 175 cases worldwide in 2019.

All continents except Asia are certified polio-free.

The last person in England infected with a wild virus was in 1984.

The disease still exists in some countries, including war-torn Afghanistan and Pakistan, where it has been difficult to vaccinate everyone.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 83% of infants worldwide received three doses of the polio vaccine in 2020.

How to eradicate polio

Are there other types of polio?

The wild polio virus is the best-known form.

However, there is another type that is more rarely associated with the oral form of the vaccine.

This vaccine provides excellent protection against wild polio, is easy to use, and is distributed in many countries around the world to keep millions of people safe.

However, it contains a live, weakened form of the virus that can replicate harmlessly in the gut. However, this means that some of it is excreted in feces.

In rare cases, this weakened form can spread to unvaccinated people.

Over time, the vaccine-derived virus can change to resemble wild polio.

Many industrialized countries are now using a new injectable form containing a killed version of the virus.

Both vaccines are safe and effective.

In the past decade, with more than 10 billion oral polio vaccine doses administered worldwide, fewer than 800 outbreaks of vaccine-derived poliovirus have occurred.

During the same period, without oral polio vaccination, more than 6.5 million children would have been paralyzed by the wild polio virus.

Inactivated polio vaccine currently used in the UKimage source, Getty Images

In the UK, polio vaccines are routinely vaccinated, but in London, immunization rates are lower than usual.

Why is the polio virus back?

In the UK, a small number of polio virus samples are detected each year during sewage monitoring. However, this is the first time that genetically related clusters have been repeatedly found over months.

The polio virus found in London most likely came from someone who had recently received an oral polio vaccine.

The weakened vaccine virus is then excreted in the feces.

It is possible that it has passed on to others at this point and has subsequently infected others. Still, no one is sick.

How big is this?

The UK is taking the right approach so far, according to Sir Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust.

“It’s a tribute to the surveillance system, and a tribute to the UK Health Security Agency for catching it and taking the right public health approach. »

And while the results are cause for concern, UEA’s professor of medicine, Professor Paul Hunter, says vaccinating more people will help fight the virus.

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  • children
  • vaccination
  • London
  • virus

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