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Now it is planning to give booster jabs to children in Greater London regardless of where they are on their regular vaccination schedule. The NHS has warned doctors to look out for paralysis symptoms in patients.
No cases have been confirmed in a patient yet, but the amount of virus samples picked up in sewage suggests it has been passing from person to person.
The booster rollout is expected to be announced tomorrow.
A public health source said: “They are trying to nip this in the bud. It is precautionary but it is a horrible bug. It can cause paralysis and in the worst cases it can be fatal.”
Britain conducts regular testing of sewage in London and Glasgow for viruses that may be a threat.
The virus invades the central nervous system, destroying or damaging the cells that control muscles.
It results in weakness and loss of use of limbs. In one in 200 cases it causes irreversible paralysis.
Up to 10 percent of those paralysed die when their breathing muscles stop working.
In the early 20th century patients were forced to live using an “iron lung” machine that would breathe for them.
There is no cure and it can only be prevented by vaccination.
The Great British Bake Off’s TV star Mary Berry contracted polio at the age of 13 and had to spend three months in hospital. This resulted in her having a twisted spine, a weaker left hand and thinner left arm.
Others affected as children include US actors Mia Farrow and Donald Sutherland, and singer Joni Mitchell.
The polio vaccine is part of the NHS routine childhood vaccination schedule but uptake has dropped in recent years and is lower in London.
It is given to children at eight, 12 and 16 weeks old as part of the 6-in-1 vaccine. Children then get top-up doses at age three and 14.
Polio injections offered in the UK contain a completely inactivated form of the virus.
The current health scare is linked to oral vaccines which are offered abroad.
They contain an attenuated form of the virus, weakened so in theory, it should not cause disease.
It is thought someone from Afghanistan, Pakistan or Nigeria recently received the oral vaccine which mutated to be passed on to others.
The virus has been largely wiped out elsewhere.
The last case of naturally-occurring polio was detected in Britain in 1984. You need all five of the polio vaccination doses to be considered fully vaccinated.
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