Complacency not an option when it comes to Polio

Posted: 21 September 2015 |

Following news that a British man had been producing the Polio virus for 30 years, experts say high immunisation coverage should keep us covered, but changes to immunisation strategies may be required…

Following news that a British man has been producing the Polio virus for nearly 30 years, UK charity The British Polio Fellowship is warning that while the prospect of new outbreaks in the UK remain slim, this case, together with outbreaks in Europe, demonstrate complacency is not an option when it comes to Polio.


Despite being vaccinated as a child, the patient had an immune disorder, meaning the weakened Polio virus used to vaccinate him survived in his body. Over time, it mutated into a form of the virus, sparking fears that similar cases could trigger new outbreaks and cause a huge setback to global efforts to eradicate Polio.

“Together with recent outbreaks of Polio in Ukraine, these cases amount to the first instances of Polio in Europe since 2010,” said CEO of The British Polio Fellowship, Ted Hill, MBE. “Polio has been eradicated in Britain for decades but these cases show that we simply cannot afford to be complacent. No one wants to see a situation which risks the return of Polio to the UK.”

The man still produced the Polio virus despite having a full course of Polio vaccinations, including three doses of weakened live virus at five, seven and 12 months old, followed by a booster aged seven. Following tests, researchers estimated the man had been shedding live Polio in his stools for as long as 28 years. Upon discovery of the man’s condition, the infection was neutralised by using blood plasma taken from people with healthy immune systems who had been immunised against Polio.

Significant changes to polio immunisation strategies may be required

“If this is not an isolated case, the fear is similar ones could trigger new outbreaks and from a wider perspective, hinder the concentrated efforts now underway to eradicate Polio once and for all,” added Ted. “The team involved in this discovery said high immunisation coverage should keep us covered, but significant changes to immunisation strategies may be required. This should prevent potential widespread transmission, but we will all be hoping it never comes to that.”

Polio is a serious illness that can lead to initial paralysis, seriously affect breathing and in some cases may even lead to death. Polio is now rarer in the UK thanks to the success of the immunisation programme introduced in 1955, but the advent of Post Polio Syndrome (PPS) in survivors has proved to be a sting in the tail of one of the most devastating illnesses the world has ever known. Today approximately 120,000 people are still living with PPS in the UK alone; therefore it is essential that everyone remains alert to the risks.

“There is no cause for alarm at this stage, but vital that we heed these warnings and stand ready to take appropriate action,” added Ted. “For The British Polio Fellowship, it’s essential that this new case in Britain is monitored closely and that proper surveillance is maintained for strains of the virus.”

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