Health officials said Friday that polio has been detected in wastewater in New York City, indicating that the virus is spreading locally.
New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett described the findings as worrisome. Bassett said local and federal health officials are assessing the prevalence of polio in the city and in New York state.
“For every polio case diagnosed with paralysis, hundreds more may go undetected,” Bassett said. “The best way to keep adults and children free of polio is through safe and effective immunization.”
Polio can lead to permanent paralysis of the arms and legs, and in some cases, death. Health officials are calling for people who haven’t been vaccinated to get their vaccines right away.
New York City Commissioner for Health Dr. Mary T. Bassett
Andy Katz | Pacific Press | Light Rocket | Getty Images
Routine vaccinations among children have decreased in New York City since 2019, increasing the risk of an outbreak, according to health officials. About 14% of New York City children aged 6 months to 5 years have not completed their polio vaccination series, which means they are not fully protected from the virus.
Overall, 86% of children age 5 and younger in New York City received three doses of the polio vaccine, according to health officials. But there are some neighborhoods in the city where less than 70% of children are familiar with polio vaccines, putting children in these communities at risk of contracting polio.
New York state health officials confirmed last month that an unvaccinated adult in Rockland County, a suburb of New York City, had contracted polio and became paralyzed. Polio was later detected in wastewater in Rockland County and neighboring Orange County.
The strain caught from unvaccinated adults is genetically related to sewage samples in Rockland and Orange counties. It’s unclear where the transmission chain began, but health officials said sewage samples indicate a local spread of the virus in the New York City metropolitan area.
According to health officials, 1 in 25 people infected with polio develop viral meningitis, and 1 in 200 develops paralysis. Most people with polio will not have symptoms, although some have flu-like symptoms such as sore throat, fever, fatigue, nausea, and stomach pain. There is no cure for this disease, but it can be prevented with vaccination.
New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Fasan.
Children should receive four doses of the vaccine: one dose at 6 weeks to 2 months, a second dose at 4 months, a third at 6 months to 18 months, and a fourth dose at 4 to 6 years old, according to New York state. health officials.
Unvaccinated people over 4 years of age should receive three doses of the vaccine. Adults who received only one or two should get one or two more, regardless of how long it has been since the previous doses.
The United States was declared polio-free in 1979, although travelers have occasionally brought in the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New York state last confirmed a case in 1990 and the United States confirmed a case in 2013.
Polio terrified parents in the 1940s, before vaccines were available. More than 35,000 people became paralyzed from polio each year during that time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But a successful vaccination campaign in the 1950s and 1960s significantly reduced the number of infections.