First polio outbreak in UK for decades – six key symptoms to look out for in your child

A national incident has been declared after a sample from sewage in Beckton in London was discovered to contain polio. The potentially deadly disease is easily spread. So what is polio and what are the early symptoms?

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Polio virus found in samples from sewage works in London

A polio spread has been reported in London between closely linked individuals and extended family.

Samples were collected during a routine inspection from the Beckton Sewage Treatment Works in London finding traces of the polio virus.

The discovery has been declared as a ‘national incident’ by the UK Health Security Agency.

The samples were discovered between February and May and have continued to evolve, now being classified as ‘vaccine-derived’ poliovirus type 2 (VDPV2).

The risk of transmission throughout the community is currently being established.

Polio is an infectious disease caused by a virus that can spread from person to person and cause paralysis.

So what are the first symptoms of polio to watch for?

Nausea is an early symptom of polio


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Early symptoms of polio in children and adults

According to the NHS, early warning signs may include:

  • A high temperature
  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • Headaches
  • Being sick (vomiting)
  • A stiff neck
  • Muscle pain.

How polio is spread

The recent outbreak in London is said to be caused by a person returning to the UK after having the oral polio vaccine.

It remains unclear how much the virus has spread, however, it may be confined to a single household or an extended family.

Polio is spread when the stool (poo) of an infected person comes into contact with the mouth of another person, either through contaminated water or through food.

Another way of spreading polio is through oral-to-oral transmission by an infected person’s saliva.

Polio can be prevented by a vaccine


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Polio vaccine

The potentially deadly disease can be prevented with a vaccine.

“Investigation [is] underway to protect public, who are urged to ensure polio vaccines are up to date, especially parents of young children who may have missed an immunisation opportunity,” says the UK Health Security Agency.

“Vaccine-derived poliovirus has the potential to spread, particularly in communities where vaccine uptake is lower,” said Dr Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at the UKHSA.

Polio warning after London discovery – early symptoms to spot


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She added: “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.

“Most of the UK population will be protected from vaccination in childhood, but in some communities with low vaccine coverage, individuals may remain at risk.”

Parents of children who are not up to date with their polio vaccine course are urged to make an appointment with their GP as soon as possible.

The UKHSA added that the risk to the wider population is low.

How to check you’ve had your polio vaccine

This Morning’s Dr Ellie assured parents that if your child has had the full UK schedule of vaccines, they will be immune from polio.

“If you are checking your polio vaccinations or your child’s they are rarely called ‘polio’,” she tweeted.

“They will be labelled: DTaP/IPV or dTaP/IPV or 6 in 1 or 5 in 1 Teenage boosters are known as Td/IPV or 3 in 1 If they’ve had full UK schedule, they are immune.”

How to reduce your risk of polio

Practise safe hand hygiene and food and water precautions during travel to reduce your risk of exposure to the polio virus, advise the experts.

As the virus spreads through unsafe food and water, practising good hygiene including washing your foods is vital.

Children in the UK normally receive polio vaccinations as part of the UK vaccination schedule.

For adults and children from 10 years of age, who have not received polio vaccinations in the past, a three-dose course of vaccinations can be provided.

Polio, or poliomyelitis, is a crippling and potentially deadly disease.

It is caused by the poliovirus.

The virus spreads from person to person and can invade an infected person’s brain and spinal cord, causing paralysis.

Polio can be prevented with vaccine.

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