A national incident has been declared by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) after the virus that causes polio was found in UK sewage samples.
Samples taken between February and May from the London Beckton Sewage Treatment Works, which serves around four million people in north and east London, suggest that the virus has spread between a small number of people.
The UKHSA is now urging people to check their polio vaccines are up to date in response to this.
But how do I check if I have been vaccinated against polio and what ages do people usually receive the vaccine?
Here’s what you need to know.
What is polio?
Polio is a serious infection that’s now very rare as it can be prevented with vaccination.
It was officially eradicated in the UK in 2003, but the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), working with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), has found polio in sewage samples collected from the London Beckton Sewage Treatment Works.
Polio is caused by a virus that spreads easily when an infected person coughs or sneezes and it can also be caught from food or water that’s been in contact with the poo of someone who has the virus.
Is there a polio vaccine?
The best way to prevent polio is to make sure you and your child are up to date with your vaccinations, the NHS said.
The polio vaccine is part of the NHS routine childhood vaccination schedule and is given when your child is:
- 8, 12 and 16 weeks old as part of the 6-in-1 vaccine
- 3 years and 4 months old as part of the 4-in-1 (DTaP/IPV) pre-school booster
- 14 years old as part of the 3-in-1 (Td/IPV) teenage booster
You need to have all of these vaccinations to be fully vaccinated against polio.
However, you can have a polio vaccination at any point if you’ve never had one before, even if you’re not travelling to a country with a risk of getting polio.
You should also get vaccinated even if you’ve had polio before as it protects against different types of polio.
How long does the polio vaccine last for?
Children in the UK usually receive the five necessary doses of the polio vaccine as part of the routine vaccination schedule for long-term protection, according to the Fit For Travel NHS website.
You can receive booster doses of polio-containing vaccines if you have not had all 5 doses.
However, if you’re travelling to a country with a high risk of polio, a booster dose may be needed, particularly if it has been 10 years since your final jab.
The website said: “If you have not completed the minimum of five doses of polio-containing vaccine, you may need additional doses before you travel.
“If you have completed the minimum of 5 doses of polio-containing vaccine, you should have a booster dose of polio-containing vaccine if more than 10 years since any previous doses.”
How can I check my polio vaccination status?
You will need to contact your GP to check your polio vaccination status and ask for your full records.
You can also request they be added to your NHS account, which can be viewed via the app or website.
Some people may also be in possession of a vaccine record book from childhood, which would detail your jabs.
If you’ve had a booster vaccine privately as an adult for travel purposes then this information may not be stored by your GP.
To check whether your child is due a vaccine, you need to request their health records from the GP practice they are registered with.
According to the NHS, any person with parental responsibility can request the records of a child who is aged 12 or younger, but children aged 13 and older are usually considered to have the capacity to give or refuse consent to parents accessing health records unless there is a reason to suggest otherwise.
However, British Medical Association guidance says that every reasonable effort must be made to encourage the child to involve parents or guardians.
Children aged 13 or over can access their immunisation history digitally by logging into their online account using the NHS app or website.
To create an account you must register for online services, offer proof of identity and ask your GP surgery for online access to your full record.
If your child is not registered with a GP then the records will be held by Primary Care Support England (PCSE) on behalf of NHS England.