Doses of the polio vaccine are shown in Lagos, Nigeria, on March 24, 2004. British health officials said on Wednesday traces of polio have been found in London wastewater and an investigation is underway. File Photo by Marshall Wolfe/EPA
June 22 (UPI) -- A British agency said Wednesday it found traces of the polio virus during a regular sewage inspection in London and declared a national incident.
Local health officials are warning about community spread of the virus after samples were collected from the Beckton Sewage Treatment Works in London.
The UK Health Security Agency added that the risk to the public remained extremely low.
"We are urgently investigating to better understand the extent of this transmission and the [National Health Service] has been asked to swiftly report any suspected cases to the UKHSA, though no cases have been reported or confirmed so far," said Dr. Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist with the agency, said in a statement.
Britain last confirmed a case of wild polio in 1984 and the nation was declared free of the disease in 2003.
"The majority of Londoners are fully protected against polio and won't need to take any further action, but the NHS will begin reaching out to parents of children aged under 5 in London who are not up to date with their polio vaccinations to invite them to get protected," Jane Clegg, chief nurse for the NHS in London said in a statement.
Saliba said vaccine-derived poliovirus has the potential to spread, particularly in communities where vaccine uptake is lower. She said 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," Saliba said. "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."
The agency said wastewater surveillance has been expanded to assess the extent of transmission and identify local areas for targeted action.