Alarm of a rare polio case and an urgent investigation in New York

The scene in Rockland County on Friday morning could have been from a pill of time: residents rolled up their sleeves and vaccinated against polio, the highly contagious and sometimes fatal disease that made an unexpected appearance in the country. suburbs of New York City.

Such sudden interest in vaccinations comes a day after the county government announced that a local adult, unvaccinated, had tested positive for the disease. The incident has alarmed local officials and residents, some of whom cannot recall whether they received the vaccine, which has been widely available for years. 1950.

Among them is Todd Messler, 64 years old. He was one of 18 people vaccinated at a pop-up clinic set up by the county health department in Pomona, NY, about 35 miles north of Midtown Manhattan.

“It hurts like hell, but I feel better,” he said. “That’s definitely the way to go.”

As of Friday, state and county health officials are investigating the incident, interviewing immediate family members of the patient and requesting vaccinations for anyone in the public who has not been vaccinated.

Bryon Backenson, director of the Department of Health’s Department of Infectious Diseases Control, said there were no signs of additional cases yet, although he noted that the state was trying to get as many samples as possible for testing. and is testing the wastewater. for signs of the virus.

Officials are also trying to spread the word about the severity of the infection, as “people are not familiar with polio,” Mr. Backenson said, noting that he himself was inaccurate about it.

“The last real case of polio that I saw in a person was probably the picture of FDR,” he said, referring to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s depression. “I think for a lot of people, they don’t necessarily understand what the seriousness of polio really is.”

It is not clear exactly when or where the patient contracted the disease, although health officials believe the person was infected by someone who had received the oral polio vaccine, which contains the virus. life has weakened.

Such vaccines have not been used in the United States since 2000, suggesting that the virus may have “originated in a location outside of the United States where OPV is administered,” according to the officials. county office. Oral vaccines are safe, but unvaccinated people can become infected if the vaccine-derived virus is circulating in the community.

County officials said the strain in question can be spread by people “who come into contact with feces or respiratory secretions, such as from a sneeze, of an infected person.”

The person had symptoms about a month ago, according to the Rockland County health commissioner, who said Thursday that the patient had become “weak and paralyzed.”

Mr. Backenson noted that only a very small percentage of cases develop severe paralysis but many of those infected with the polio virus will have no symptoms, which can make it difficult to diagnose. find out how far the disease has spread.

“That’s probably the biggest concern: You probably have a lot of people out there who may never have severe polio but have the potential to spread it to other people,” he said. “That’s the reason for the urgency.”

On Friday, Rockland County officials said that “the person did not travel outside the country during what should have been the window of transmission,” adding that “up to 95 percent of those infected have no symptoms.” evidence, which makes it difficult to track transmission.”

Mr. Backenson said the Rockland case was discovered after state officials raised the alarm about another neurological illness – acute myelitis – can cause polio-like symptoms in children and can lead to paralysis. In June, the department issued a notice about the disease to clinicians, asking them to monitor cases. The patient’s doctor then sent a sample to state agencies, who – instead of looking for AFM – discovered polio.

County officials were alerted to the positive identification of polio by state officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday night. The county is releasing very little personal information about the patient, though some local officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of concerns about the patient’s privacy, say he is a man in 20 years old and a member of the county’s large Orthodox Jewish community.

That community is also the relationship of measles outbreaks in 2018 and 2019, with hundreds of cases in the county and in Brooklyn, it is also home to many Orthodox residents. Rockland County’s polio vaccination rate for young children is significantly lower than rates in other counties outside of New York City, according to state data. (Vaccine misinformation circulated in the Orthodox communityalthough most Orthodox rabbis encourage vaccination among their congregations.)

The measles outbreak has led to a new law, passed in June 2019that ended religious immunization exemptions amid a heated debate in Albany, a dispute that is believed to have sparked even broader fights across the country over Covid vaccinations after The pandemic begins in 2020.

In Monsey, 27-year-old Yechiel Teichman, an Orthodox father of two young daughters, said he was alarmed by the news that polio had returned even though he and his daughters had been vaccinated.

“It reminds me of older family members who are still suffering from the polio they got when they were kids,” said Mr Teichman as he took his 2-year-old and 4-year-old daughters home to get one. pizza. “I advise everyone to get vaccinated.”

Like other residents, Mr. Teichman also confessed to feeling exhausted and impatient when it comes to illnesses, including the coronavirus and recent cases of monkeypox. However, he said, “I’m a lot more worried about polio than Covid – polio could do more damage.”

Layla Deutsch, 21, says that although she grew up Orthodox, her parents were terrified enough about polio to get her vaccinated. However, many of her friends are still unvaccinated, making her very worried and confused.

“It’s a little weird,” she said. “Anything can happen. We don’t know what’s next.”

Likewise, local elected officials believe that the community and government response to polio should be as positive as possible.

“This cannot wait,” said Representative Kenneth Zebrowski, a Democrat from Rockland. “They need to attack this on a whiteboard in a war room.”

Mr. Zebrowski, who has three children, seems frustrated that his district is once again having to deal with a disease, like measles, which seems to have been conquered by modern medicine, only to flare up again in an unvaccinated person.

“Are you at risk if you take your child to the mall?” he say. “Honestly, we haven’t had to worry about this in decades.”

Aron B. Wieder, a member of the Rockland County Legislature who is a Hasidic Jew, said he was encouraged by the response from residents in his community and he encouraged the unvaccinated. should be vaccinated as soon as possible. “This can save lives,” he said.

Once one of the world’s most feared diseases, polio has largely been tamed using vaccines developed in the 1950s. The Last known case of polio in the United States was in 2013, believed to have been brought in from abroad. The last case originating in the United States was in 1979, according to the CDC

For Mr. Messler, Friday morning’s immunizations have stabilized his mind, although he said the constant threat of a variety of illnesses has left him a bit tired.

“That’s a drag, isn’t it?” he say. “Personally, I am not worried to any degree. But these things will keep coming back and coming back and coming back. “

Hurubie Meko contributed reporting.

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