While I was away in Central Europe, my colleague Mary Chastain reported that the New York State Department of Health and Rockland County Department of Health announced a positive case of polio in the county. This was the first recorded case of polio in this nation since 2013.
Now state health officials indicate that the case may be “the tip of the iceberg” of a much wider threat after tests on wastewater samples identified strains of the polio virus that caused the first recorded infection.
The urgent call came as officials said polio had been detected in wastewater samples taken in several locations and at different times in two counties north of New York City, potentially signaling community spread of the disease.
“Based on earlier polio outbreaks, New Yorkers should know that for every one case of paralytic polio observed, there may be hundreds of other people infected,” Dr. Mary T. Bassett, the state’s health commissioner, said in a statement.
“Coupled with the latest wastewater findings,” Dr. Bassett added, “the department is treating the single case of polio as just the tip of the iceberg of much greater potential spread.”
The samples have been genetically linked to the confirmed polio case. Health officials are encouraging vaccinations in light of the test results.
The new findings don’t imply that the identified case in Rockland County is the source of the transmission, according to the New York State Department of Health. An investigation into the origins of the case is continuing.
New York health officials urged those who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated against polio to get immunized immediately. Unvaccinated people who live, work, go to school in or visit Rockland County, Orange County or the greater New York metropolitan area are at the greatest risk of exposure.
Officials have said that people who are fully vaccinated are at very low risk of contracting the disease.
This would be a great time to assess vaccination records, even for adults.
Unvaccinated people who live, work or spend time in Rockland County, Orange County and the greater New York metropolitan area are at the greatest risk.
Most school-aged children have received the polio vaccine, which is a four-dose course, started between 6 weeks and 2 months of age and followed by one shot at 4 months, one at 6 to 12 months, and one between the ages of 4 and 6. According to the health department, about 60% of children in Rockland County have received three polio shots before their second birthday, as have about 59% in Orange County — both below the 79% statewide figure.
According to the CDC’s most recent childhood vaccination data, about 93% of 2-year-olds in the U.S. had received at least three doses of polio vaccine.
Meanwhile, adults who are not vaccinated would receive a three-dose immunization, and those who are vaccinated but at high risk can receive a lifetime booster shot, according to the health department.
The vaccine is 99% effective in children who receive the full four-dose regime, health officials said.
Though it has little impact on most people, it is important to note that polio infection can lead to serious health effects, such as paralysis, in some cases.
Around 72% of people infected with polio have no visible symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another 25% may develop flulike symptoms such as sore throat, fatigue, fever, nausea, headache or stomach pain, which tend to resolve after a few days.
In rare cases, the virus can invade the nervous system and cause meningitis (swelling of the brain and spinal cord membranes), paresthesia (the feeling of pins and needles in the legs), or irreversible paralysis, usually on one side of the body.
“It’s a double-humped disease. It starts off with a minor illness, with coldlike symptoms, sore throat, things like that. Then the patient usually gets better for a day or so and the paralysis sets in,” said Walter Orenstein, associate director of the Emory Vaccine Center.
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