NHS to contact parents of unvaccinated kids in fight to contain polio outbreak

NHS to contact parents of unvaccinated kids in fight to contain polio outbreak

The disease was found in the UK yesterday for the first time in 40 years (Picture: Getty/Sky)

Parents of unvaccinated children in London will be contacted by the NHS in a bid to contain the UK’s polio outbreak.

A national incident was declared yesterday after the disease was found in the UK for the first time in 40 years.

The virus was discovered in samples from the London Beckton Sewage Treatment Works, which covers a population of around four million people.

Now, an investigation is underway to determine the source of the outbreak so a targeted vaccination drive can begin.

The UK Health Security Agency (HSA) is working on the theory that a person vaccinated abroad with the live polio vaccine – possibly in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Nigeria – entered the UK early in 2022 and was shedding the virus.

It is likely they then infected relatives or close contacts in north-east London, who in turn are shedding the virus into their faeces.

NHS to contact parents of unvaccinated kids in fight to contain polio outbreak

Traces of the polio virus have been found during a routine sewage inspection in London (Picture: Sky)

Officials are looking at the possibility that just one family – or an extended family – may be infected.

However as a precaution, the NHS is starting up a major drive to ensure routine vaccinations are being taken up after the Covid-19 pandemic caused a lull in appointments.

Jane Clegg, chief nurse for the NHS in London, said: ‘The NHS will begin reaching out to parents of children aged under five in London who are not up to date with their polio vaccinations to invite them to get protected.’

Health officials stressed that the virus has only been detected in sewage samples and no cases of paralysis have been reported.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said he was ‘not particularly worried’ about the detection of poliovirus.

He told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme that UKHSA ‘reminded me that as a country we have very high vaccination rates against polio. We’ve been declared polio free since 2003 and we haven’t had any cases since then’.

The polio vaccine is given on the NHS when a child is eight, 12 and 16 weeks old as part of the 6-in-1 vaccine. It is given again at three years and four months old as part of the 4-in-pre-school booster, and at 14 as part of the 3-in-1 teenage booster.

NHS to contact parents of unvaccinated kids in fight to contain polio outbreak

Most people in the UK are vaccinated against polio (Picture: Shutterstock)

All of these vaccines need to have been given for a person to be fully vaccinated, though babies who have had two or three doses will have substantial protection.

Latest figures show that by the age of two in the UK, almost 95% of children have had the correct number of doses. However, this drops to just under 90% in London.

When it comes to the pre-school booster, just 71% of children in London have had it by the age of five.

The last case of natural polio infection acquired in the UK was in 1984, though it wasn’t declared officially eradicated until 2003.

The UK stopped using live oral polio vaccine (OPV) in 2004 and switched to inactivated polio vaccine (IPV).

Dr Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at UKHSA, said vaccine derived poliovirus is rare and the risk to the public overall is extremely low.

But she added: ‘It has potential to spread, particularly in communities where vaccine uptake is lower.

‘On rare occasions it can cause paralysis in people who are not fully vaccinated so if you or your child are not up to date with your polio vaccinations it’s important you contact your GP to catch up or, if unsure, check your red book.’

Medics have now been alerted by UKHSA to look out for signs of polio paralysis.

Most people who get polio do not have symptoms but some suffer mild, flu-like issues such as a high temperature, extreme tiredness, headaches, vomiting, a stiff neck and muscle pain.

In one in 100 to one in 1,000 infections, the polio virus attacks the nerves in the spine and base of the brain.

This can cause paralysis, usually in the legs, that develops over hours or days.

If the breathing muscles are affected, polio can be life-threatening.

Urgent medical attention should be sought if people experience rapid onset of weakness in a limb, which will be floppy, or difficulties with breathing.

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