ALBANY, NY (UKTN) — New York state health officials on Thursday made an urgent appeal to unvaccinated children and adults to get vaccinated against polio, citing new evidence of possible “community spread” of the dangerous virus.
The polio virus has now been found in seven different wastewater samples in two adjacent counties north of New York City, health officials said.
So far, only one person has tested positive for polio — an unvaccinated adult in Rockland County who was paralyzed.
But based on past polio outbreaks, “New Yorkers should know that for every observed case of paralytic polio, hundreds of other people may be infected,” said state health commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett, in a statement.
“Combined with the latest wastewater findings, the ministry is treating the single case of polio as just the tip of the iceberg of a much larger potential spread,” she said. “As we learn more, what we do know is clear: The danger of polio is present in New York today. We need to take this moment by making sure that adults, including pregnant people, and young children as young as 2 months old are aware of their immunization – the safe protection against this debilitating virus that every New Yorker needs.”
The Rockland County polio is the first person to be infected with the virus in nearly a decade in the US. Wastewater samples collected in adjacent Orange County in June and July also contained the virus.
Polio, once one of the country’s most feared diseases, was declared eradicated in the United States in 1979, more than two decades after vaccines became available.
A majority of 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 who get the disease suffer from paralysis. The disease is fatal for 5-10% of the paralyzed.
All schoolchildren in New York are required to have a polio vaccine, but enforcement of vaccination rules in some areas can be lax. Rockland and Orange counties are both known as centers of vaccine resistance. Statewide, about 79% of people have completed their polio vaccination course by age two. In Orange County, that percentage is 59%. In Rockland that is 60%.
Orange County wastewater samples were initially collected from municipal wastewater treatment plants for COVID-19 testing.
“It is concerning that polio, a disease largely eradicated by vaccination, is now circulating in our community, especially given the low vaccination rates for this debilitating disease in certain parts of our county,” said Orange County Health Commissioner Irina Gelman. said. “I urge all unvaccinated Orange County residents to get vaccinated as soon as medically possible.”