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

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. 

It is given again at three years and four months old as part of the four-in-one (DTaP/IPV) pre-school booster, and at 14 as part of the three-in-one (Td/IPV) teenage booster.

All of these vaccines need to have been given for a person to be fully vaccinated, though babies who have had two or three doses will have substantial protection.

Latest figures show that by the age of two in the UK, almost 95% of children have had the correct number of doses. However, this drops to just under 90 percent in London.

When it comes to the pre-school booster, just 71 percent of children in London have had it by the age of five.

Doctor Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at UKHSA, said: “Vaccine-derived poliovirus is rare and the risk to the public overall is extremely low.

“Vaccine-derived poliovirus has the potential to spread, particularly in communities where vaccine uptake is lower.

“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.

“We are urgently investigating to better understand the extent of this transmission and the NHS has been asked to swiftly report any suspected cases to the UKHSA, though no cases have been reported or confirmed so far.”

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