Experts call for polio testing across Australia

With increased wastewater testing in Victoria, Australia is being urged to build a national polio surveillance network.

Chris Marr, Senior Vaccine Advisor for UNICEF Australia, said the components of the national program are already in place.

Victoria’s chief health officer, Brett Sutton, said on Tuesday the state will step up testing of wastewater for the virus and NSW will roll out a program as soon as possible.

“It’s great to see this kind of surveillance extended to all states and territories,” Maher told AAP.

“The Australian network is not very extensive, but it would be great to be broader.”

The risk of polio cases in Australia is “very real,” Maher said, but vaccination coverage is so high that the country is unlikely to have a major outbreak.

He previously served as Senior Advisor to the Director-General of the World Health Organization and is a member of Australia’s National Accreditation Commission for Polio Eradication.

Victorian authorities have increased testing after a man in his 20s was paralyzed by the virus in New York earlier this year.

Prof Sutton said the risk of an outbreak in the state remains low but “is not out of the question”.

“We alternate sampling from the eastern and western wastewater treatment plants,” he told ABC Radio.

“We want to detect them as soon as they get here, so we have to monitor them very closely.”

He said sensitive surveillance systems can detect minute amounts of the virus from a single individual.

“If the virus is detected in the wastewater, we will look to see who is circulating and hit very hard with additional vaccinations.”

The New York case and the traces of the virus detected in London should serve as a reminder to all parents to ensure their children are vaccinated, Sutton added.

“If you have unvaccinated children…it’s a risk and a serious disease. It causes paralysis in 1 in 200.”



Australian Associated Press is an Australian news agency.