Polio fears grow in New York amid possible community spread

ALBANY, NY – New York state health officials issued a more urgent call on Thursday for Children and adults who have not been vaccinated against poliociting new evidence of the “community transmission” potential of the dangerous virus.

Health officials say the polio virus has now been found in seven different wastewater samples in two adjacent counties north of New York City.

To date, only one person has tested positive for polio — an unvaccinated adult in Rockland County who is paralyzed.

But based on previous polio outbreaks, “New Yorkers should know that for every polio case observed, hundreds of others could be infected,” said the state health commissioner, Dr. Mary T. Bassett, said in a statement.

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“Along with the latest wastewater findings, the Department is treating a single case of polio as just the tip of an iceberg with a much greater potential for transmission,” she said. “As we learned more, what we knew was clear: the danger of polio is present in New York today. We must meet this moment by ensuring that adults, including pregnant women and children under 2 months of age, have up-to-date immunizations — a safe defense against the debilitating virus. This is what every New Yorker needs. “

The Rockland County polio patient was the first known to have contracted the virus in the US in nearly a decade. Wastewater samples collected in June and July in adjacent Orange County also contained the virus.

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

Most people infected with polio have no symptoms, but can still pass the virus on to others for days or weeks. A small percentage of people with the disease have paralysis. The disease is fatal for 5-10% of people who are paralyzed.

All children attending school in New York are required to be vaccinated against polio, but enforcement of vaccination regulations in some areas can be lax. Rockland and Orange counties are both known centers of vaccine resistance. Statewide, about 79% of them completed their polio vaccination before the age of two. In Orange County, that rate is 59%. In Rockland, the figure is 60%.

Orange County wastewater samples were initially collected from municipal wastewater treatment plants for COVID-19 testing.

“Associated with polio, a disease that has been largely eradicated through vaccination, is now circulating in our community, especially due to low vaccination rates for this debilitating disease in parts of our County,” said Orange County Health Commissioner Irina Gelman. “I urge all unvaccinated Orange County residents to get vaccinated as medically as possible.”

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