Five main symptoms of polio infection to spot as ‘national incident’ declared in the UK

Polio virus found in samples from sewage works in London

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The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), working with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), has found polio in sewage samples collected from the London Beckton Sewage Treatment Works, which serves around four million people in north and east London. The infection, which is not usually found in the UK, can prove life-threatening so it’s vital the warning signs are heeded.

People are also being urged to ensure their polio vaccines are up to date after an outbreak of the virus was detected in UK sewage samples.

What are symptoms to spot?

According to the NHS, most people who get polio do not have symptoms.

Some people get mild, flu-like symptoms, such as:

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

“These symptoms usually last up to 10 days,” adds the health body.

The NHS continues: “Rarely, polio can cause difficulty using your muscles (paralysis), usually in the legs. This can happen over hours or days.

“It’s not usually permanent and movement will slowly come back over the next few weeks or months.”

Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if you have travelled to a country where polio is found and have polio symptoms.

What we know so far

Experts have raised the alarm after several genetically-linked viruses were found in samples between February and May. 

VDPV is a strain of the weakened poliovirus, that was initially included in the oral polio vaccine, which has changed over time and behaves more like the “wild” or naturally-occurring virus.

This means it can be spread more easily to people who are unvaccinated and who come into contact with the faeces or coughs and sneezes of an infected person.

The UKHSA is working on the theory that a person vaccinated abroad with the polio vaccine – possibly in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Nigeria – entered the UK early in 2022 and was shedding the virus.

That person has has now passed it onto other, closely linked individuals in north-east London, who in turn are shedding the virus into their faeces.

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