The New York City Department of Health says hundreds of people could be infected with the polio virus


Polio found in sewage samples in 2 boroughs of New York

02:04

New York state health officials have found evidence of additional cases of polio virus in sewage samples from two different counties, prompting them to warn that hundreds of people could be infected with the potentially serious virus.

Just two weeks ago, the New York City Health Department reported the nation first case of polio in almost a decade, in Rockland County, north of New York City. Officials said this case occurred in a previously healthy young adult who was unvaccinated and developed paralysis in his legs. Since then, three positive sewage samples from Rockland County and four from neighboring Orange County have been discovered and genetically linked to the first case, the health department said in a news release Thursday, suggesting the poliovirus is spreading in local communities. The most recent samples were collected in June and July from two locations in Orange County and in July from one location in Rockland County.

“Based on past polio outbreaks, New Yorkers should know that for every case of paralytic polio observed, hundreds of other people may be infected,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T Bassett. “In conjunction with the latest understanding of wastewater, the department is treating the individual case of polio as just the tip of the iceberg with a much larger potential spread. As we learn more, what we know will become clear: The threat of polio is present in New York today.”

The health department reiterated that it is still investigating the origin of the virus and said it was not yet clear if the Rockland County infected person was linked to the other cases.

Polio is “a serious and life-threatening disease,” said the state health department. It is highly contagious and can be transmitted by people who are not yet showing symptoms. Symptoms usually appear within 30 days of infection and can be mild or flu-like. Some people who are infected can become paralyzed or die.

Before the polio vaccine was introduced in the 1950s, polio outbreaks killed thousands of Americans and left tens of thousands, including many children, paralyzed. After a successful vaccination campaign, polio was officially declared eradicated in the United States in 1979.

Unvaccinated New Yorkers are encouraged to get vaccinated immediately, the health department said. Unvaccinated people who live, work, or spend time in Rockland County, Orange County, and the New York metro area are most at risk.

Most school-age children have received the polio vaccine, which is a four-dose cycle started between the ages of 6 weeks and 2 months and followed by one vaccination at 4 months, one at 6 to 12 months 12 months and one between ages 4 and 6. According to the Department of Health, about 60% of Rockland County children have had three polio shots before their second birthday, as have about 59% in Orange County — both below the statewide tally of 79 %.

According to the CDC’s most recent childhood immunization data, approximately 93% of 2-year-olds in the United States had received at least three doses of polio vaccine.

Meanwhile, adults who are unvaccinated would receive a three-dose immunization and those who are vaccinated but are at high risk can receive a lifetime booster shot, according to the health department.

The vaccine is 99% effective in children receiving the full four-dose regimen, health officials said.

“It is concerning that polio, a disease largely eradicated through vaccination, is now widespread in our community, particularly given the low vaccination rates for this debilitating disease in certain areas of our county,” said Dr. Orange County Health Commissioner Irina Gelmann said. “I urge all unvaccinated Orange County residents to get vaccinated as soon as medically possible.”

The Health Commissioner of the Rockland County Department of Health, Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert, made a similar statement, urging people who are not vaccinated to get vaccinated “immediately”.

Polio has been rare in the US since it was declared eradicated over 40 years ago. The last reported case was brought by a traveler In 2013according to The Associated Press.

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