Alan Alda, Hildegard Knife, and even former US President Franklin D. Roosevelt have one thing in common: they all had poliomyelitis, also known as polio. Thanks to focused actions, the disease caused by polio viruses has virtually been eradicated – with the exception of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the World Health Organization at the same time classified all countries as “polio-free”. Exactly 20 years ago, the World Health Organization declared Europe polio-free.
As The New York Times reports, traces of the virus have now been found in London’s wastewater – even though England also ended the war against polio viruses 20 years ago. Now the authorities are concerned – and have announced a nationwide accident.
The virus was discovered during a sewage test at a sewage treatment plant in North London. These checks are carried out regularly throughout the country. Contrary to the effects of the virus that are sometimes seen, the concentration of the virus in London is alarming: researchers detected the virus in several samples taken at different times. In addition, according to the current state of knowledge, they are related to each other.
The exact origin is currently unclear. Remnants of the virus are believed to have come from someone who had traveled to London in recent months. The main argument for this is that the finds are limited to the catchment area of the wastewater treatment plant. However, since this includes about four million people, exact identification is difficult.
British authorities state that no cases of polio have been recorded, so there is nothing to worry about. However, people who are not immunized must be vaccinated.
Polio: why do polioviruses persist?
Polio is caused by the so-called polio virus or polio virus. These are relatively simple viruses that occur almost exclusively in humans. Two of the three common types of viruses have already been eliminated. Only in Pakistan and Afghanistan outbreaks of the remaining wild poliovirus type 1 occur repeatedly, and the fact that these viruses are also detected in other countries has to do with population transmission. Fleeing or migrating to other countries means that pathogens are taken with them.
The vaccination campaign has also seen slow progress in recent years. Bayerischer Rundfunk reports that young parents are no longer aware of the extent of polio. In addition, due to the epidemic, the vaccination rate in other countries has decreased – polioviruses have an easy time here. This could increase the risk of spreading the virus even further.
How is the polio virus transmitted?
According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), infection occurs through contact with secretions, for example in contaminated water. Because viruses multiply in the intestine in a very short time. Breeding in the throat area can also lead to further infection if there is close physical contact through the air.
After infection, the disease is usually asymptomatic. If there are symptoms, they are expressed by fever, headache, nausea or muscle cramps. Motor weakness or even paralysis can occur in children – hence the common name “polio”. Although paralysis should subside, affected people often remain affected. In particularly severe cases, paralysis can become chronic.
How can I protect myself?
The polio vaccine is the best protection against infection, and today’s vaccine consists of three doses and uses a weakened form of the polio virus. It is now recommended for infants and young children from the age of two months, with a refresher course between the ages of nine and sixteen. For adults, it is advisable to update the vaccination if you travel to a country infected with the polio virus – currently mainly Pakistan and Afghanistan.
What is the status of polio in Germany?
The campaign against polio is one of the largest vaccination campaigns ever: in the former German Democratic Republic and the FRG, so-called oral vaccination was widely advertised to combat the very high number of cases in the 1960s. It was a live vaccine containing a weakened form of the polio virus. The last case of polio in Germany was in 1992.