Polio detected in London wastewater sparks a new vaccination drive, though no cases have been spotted yet.

The UK Health Security Agency has been monitoring sewage samples, in what began as a way to track COVID-19 community transmission. But they aren’t only testing for covid.

According to the agency, 116 individual polio virii have been detected in 19 sewage samples from central and northeast London. No actual cases have been detected, to be clear. Not the usual symptoms of digestive upset and fever, or the severe, better known symptoms of paralysis. By today’s naming conventions, we’d call that version long polio.

With no identified cases, there’s no telling how many people are infected, or where the infection came from. In the best case scenario, the detection is due to one or more individuals recently vaccinated with the live oral polio vaccine. The live vaccine is not used in the UK, but it is in other countries. Those recently vaccinated with it can shed harmless, vaccine-like virii in their feces. There is a small worry that the weakened form of the virus could mutate into a virulent form, though this has never happened.

In response to the possibility, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) is pushing a vaccination campaign, especially in boroughs of London with high low-income and immigrant populations, where vaccination rates are low. The campaign urges the polio vaccine for all children between 1 and 9 years old.

“It is vital parents ensure their children are fully vaccinated for their age,” says Dr. Vanessa Saliba, an epidemiologist for the HSA. “Following JCVI advice, all children aged one to nine years in London need to have a dose of polio vaccine now – whether it’s an extra booster dose or just to catch up with their routine vaccinations. It will ensure a high level of protection from paralysis. This may also help stop the virus spreading further.”

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