WHO introduces guidance to help facilities assess poliovirus risk of their sample collections

Sweden National Authority for Containment

Following guidance for the safe containment of polioviruses in designated polio research or vaccine-production facilities (in the WHO Global Action Plan III), WHO has now also published guidance for other facilities that handle human stool specimens, respiratory samples or environmental sewage. The new guidance will help the facilities identify, destroy, or safely and securely handle and store sample collections that could be potentially infectious with poliovirus.

Poliovirus close to eradication

Only 22 cases due to wild poliovirus were recorded globally in 2017. As dedicated vaccination teams in the 3 remaining endemic countries continue to bring the world ever closer to eradicating this disease, intensified efforts are also underway to ensure that all poliovirus-containing materials stored anywhere in the world are safely contained or destroyed.

Materials that are potentially infectious with poliovirus include faecal, nasopharyngeal or sewage samples collected in a time and place where wild polioviruses, vaccine-derived polioviruses or oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV)-derived viruses were circulating, or where OPV/Sabin was in use. Non-polio research facilities with a high probability of storing such materials include those working with rotavirus or other enteric agents, hepatitis viruses, influenza and/or respiratory viruses, and measles virus. Other facilities could include those conducting nutrition research or environmental facilities.

Safety from polio in a post-polio world

Once wild polio is no longer circulating anywhere in the world, it will be crucial to prevent any contact with or release of the virus that could lead to infection and potential recirculation. Identifying, eliminating the risk through destruction, or mitigating the risk of handling such materials is essential not only to maintain the safety of laboratory workers but also for the success of the global polio eradication effort.
The containment of polioviruses is taking place under the oversight and responsibility of national authorities, and WHO/Europe continues to provide technical support to Member States to prepare for and implement all phases of the containment process. The WHO guidance publications will be available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.