Poliovirus found in sewage near vaccine manufacturing facility in the Netherlands

By: Autumn Gertz

Image courtesy of Darren Hester via Flickr

On September 2nd Danish news outlets reported on health ministry inspectors investigating the source of Poliovirus detected in sewage near a pharmaceutical company in Utrecht (1). The Poliovirus contamination was reported at the RIVM site in Bilthoven in early August, from sewage samples collected on July 21st (1-3). This site is the home of two polio vaccine producing institutes, including the Intravacc research institute and public health council, and Bilthoven Biologicals (1-3). While the virus can survive outside of a human host, water purification should deactivate the virus, eliminating it as a threat to the public (1,2). 

In a statement, RIVM said no technical problems or known sources have been identified at this time (3). The health ministry Inspectorate investigating stated two possible sources of the contamination: directly from the lab where the vaccine is being developed (e.g. sink), or from an infected employee who used the toilet (2). This is because Poliovirus is known to be transmitted through fecal shedding or water contamination (4). Poliovirus screening will occur for employees from both the vaccine institutes to learn if any employees are infected or have been exposed (2). The Inspectorate stated they will also analyze the DNA sequence of the virus found in the sewage to investigate its origin (2). The results from the DNA investigation are expected to be returned within three weeks (2). 

Additionally, RIVM notified the World Health Organization (WHO) of the contamination about two weeks ago (3). WHO purchases about 30 million polio vaccines from Bilthoven Biologicals (3). This is about half of the 60 million global polio vaccines produced (3). Poliovirus causes poliomyelitis, which can lead to irreversible paralysis (4). The Global Polio Eradication Initiative has worked hard since 1988 to eradicate polio globally, decreasing wild polio by 99% (4).


[1] https://www.dutchnews.nl/news/2020/09/polio-virus-found-in-sewage-fed-by-major-vaccine-manufacturer-vk/

[2] https://nltimes.nl/2020/09/02/polio-virus-found-sewage-public-health-institute

[3] http://outbreaknewstoday.com/poliovirus-found-in-sewage-water-in-the-netherlands-25297/

[4] https://www.who.int/health-topics/poliomyelitis#tab=tab_1

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