Health clinics in the UK have been put on high alert after multiple samples of the virus were found in sewage water, suggesting there is an outbreak occurring in the capital.
Health authorities have declared a “national incident,” however, no cases of polio have been identified so far, and the risk to the public is low, reports the New York Times.
Even still, health officials are urging anyone who is not vaccinated against polio, particularly young children, to immediately seek vaccines.
“Most of the U.K. population will be protected from vaccination in childhood, but in some communities with low vaccine coverage, individuals may remain at risk,” said Dr. Vanessa Saliba, a consultant epidemiologist for the U.K. Health Security Agency.
In a press release, the UK health Security Agency explained that several closely-related viruses were found in sewage samples collected between February and May at the London Beckton Sewage Treatment Works.
The press release goes on to say: “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.”
According to the BBC, researchers are saying they believe the outbreak may have started with somebody who received the live oral polio vaccine overseas and then traveled to Britain, which stopped using the live vaccine in 2004.
“It sounds like the outbreak is very small,” says virologist Angela Rasmussen, reports NPR.com, who studies polio at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada. “The outbreak could be within an extended family. Transmission would require a concentration of people who had not yet been vaccinated.”
“The pandemic has given polio the opportunity to come surging back in many countries,” Rasmussen says because it disrupted childhood vaccination programs around the world.