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NY Health Officials Warn Hundreds of People Are Possibly Infected with Polio, Urge Immediate Action

08-08-2022
poliovirus
This 2014 illustration made available by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention depicts a polio virus particle. (Sarah Poser, Meredith Boyter Newlove/CDC via AP)

New York state health officials have announced the polio virus has now been detected in wastewater samples from two geographically different locations in Orange County and July samples from Rockland County. The virus had also been detected in early June in Rockland County.

So far, only one person has tested positive for polio — an unvaccinated adult in Rockland County who suffered paralysis.

The patient is the first person known to be infected with the virus in the U.S. in nearly a decade. 

Health officials are warning of a potential community spread of the virus and urging every New York adult and child to get immunized, after analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that seven positive samples from both Rockland County (three) and Orange County (four) are genetically linked to the same individual case.  

"Based on earlier polio outbreaks, New Yorkers should know that for every one case of paralytic polio observed, there may be hundreds of other people infected," State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said. "Coupled with the latest wastewater findings, the Department is treating the single case of polio as just the tip of the iceberg of much greater potential spread. As we learn more, what we do know is clear: the danger of polio is present in New York today. We must meet this moment by ensuring that adults, including pregnant people, and young children by 2 months of age are up to date with their immunization – the safe protection against this debilitating virus that every New Yorker needs."

In a press release, officials stressed the urgency of being immunized. 

"All New Yorkers who are unvaccinated, including children by 2 months of age, those who are pregnant, and people who have not completed their polio vaccine series previously should get immunized right away," the health department said. "Unvaccinated New Yorkers who live, work, go to school in, or visit Rockland County, Orange County, and the greater New York metropolitan area are at the highest risk of exposure."

Polio, once one of the nation's most feared diseases, was declared eliminated in the United States in 1979, more than two decades after vaccines became available.

"It is concerning that polio, a disease that has been largely eradicated through vaccination, is now circulating in our community, especially given the low rates of vaccination for this debilitating disease in certain areas of our County," Orange County Health Commissioner Dr. Irina Gelman said. "I urge all unvaccinated Orange County residents to get vaccinated as soon as medically feasible."

A majority of people infected with polio have no symptoms but can still shed the virus and give it to others for days or weeks. A small percentage of people who get the disease suffer paralysis. The disease is fatal for 5-10% of those paralyzed.

While there is no cure for polio, it is preventable through safe and effective immunization. According to CDC, inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV), which is the only polio immunization that has been given in the United States since 2000, protects 99% of children who get all the recommended doses.

New Yorkers can learn more about polio and polio immunization here

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