Polio Begins Spreading In London For First Time In Decades

(SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images)

Dylan Housman Deputy News Editor
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London is battling the spread of polio for the first time since the 1980’s.

The United Kingdom Health Security Agency (UKHSA) announced in June it had identified 116 polioviruses across 19 different sewage samples between February and June. Now, authorities are opening up booster vaccinations against the illness for children between one and nine years of age to slow spread and prevent paralysis.

Dr. Vanessa Saliba, a consultant epidemiologist at UKHSA, said there are no reported cases of polio in the city yet, but added that the samples came from less-vaccinated parts of the city. “We know the areas in London where the poliovirus is being transmitted have some of the lowest vaccination rates. This is why the virus is spreading in these communities and puts those residents not fully vaccinated at greater risk.”

Individuals infected with polio will not necessarily present symptoms after infection, meaning the virus could be circulating even if nobody is reporting they’re infected.

The agency said Wednesday that dozens more sewage surveillance sites will be activated in the coming weeks to determine how rapidly the virus is spreading in the city, and if it’s circulating outside London in other parts of the country, as well. (RELATED: One-In-Five Gay Men Who Got Monkeypox Had Sex With 10 Or More People Before Getting Infected, CDC Says)

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that a vaccination rate of 95% is needed within a population in order to keep polio outbreaks at bay, but the vaccination rate across several parts of London is below that threshold, according to Reuters.

UKHSA said the virus samples found in London’s wastewater were genetically linked to a case in the United States. A New York man was paralyzed last month after contracting polio, the first case in the U.S. in more than a decade. Authorities in the state are now monitoring for a potential outbreak there as well, although further serious cases haven’t yet been confirmed.