Polio virus found in the London Sewers – What you need to know

Dr Shanika Attale

November 9, 2022

You may have read that Type 2 Polio virus was detected in London sewage samples between February and August 2022.  This has come as a shock to UK & global health authorities, who until now considered Polio eradicated from the UK – and indeed most regions of the world.  Last week, health professionals around the UK were put on red alert about polio.   

In this blog article, we tell you what you need to know about this virus.

What is Polio?

Polio is a viral infection that only occurs in humans, and has the potential to cause a permanent muscle paralysis. This is why it is such an important illness to prevent.

How Could I Catch The Virus?

Polio can either be spread by person to person contact, or by consuming food or water that has been contaminated by the faeces of an infected person (hence why finding it in London sewers is a concern).

Signs and Symptoms of Polio

Actually, most people who acquire Polio don’t develop symptoms. Where symptoms do develop, they range from mild illness with fever to meningitis or paralysis.

The paralysis caused by polio is characterised by a reduction in muscle tone and is known as ‘acute flaccid paralysis’. Although paralysis occurs in less than 1% of infections, it may leave life changing permanent muscle weakness.

If you are worried you may have symptoms of polio, you should speak to a health professional immediately.

How To Prevent Polio: 

There are 2 main measures:

  1. Hygiene:  As it is transmitted by faecal-oral route strict food and water hygiene is important.
  2. Vaccination:   The UK vaccination programme protects from the 3 types of polio virus. In most circumstances, five doses of polio vaccine is considered to give long term protection. Travellers to areas or countries where there are recent reports of of polio and whose last dose of polio was 10 or more years ago should be offered a booster.

If you were vaccinated overseas, you should check what you were vaccinated from.  In some countries, the regime does not protect you from Type 2 virus, which is unfortunately the one found in our sewers this year.

Do I need the vaccine?

If you are worried whether you are adequately protected, you should check in with your doctor for your vaccination record.  If you are not up to date, most Polio vaccines are free on the NHS. 

How Can a Private Doctor Help?

If you have any concerns about Polio, one option is to make a private GP appointment with us. We can review your vaccination record, and give advice on your level of protection, as well as discuss Polio risks home and abroad.   We can provide vaccination privately, as well as provide certificated vaccination for entry to those countries that require it.