Hundreds of other people could contract polio after an adult in a New York City suburb contracted the virus and became paralyzed last month, the state’s top health official said this week.
New York State Health Commissioner Mary Bassett warned that the confirmed case of polio in an unvaccinated adult, coupled with detection of the virus in sewage outside the nation’s largest city, could indicate a larger outbreak is underway. .
“Based on past polio outbreaks, New Yorkers should know that for every observed case of paralytic polio, hundreds of other people could be infected,” Bassett said. “Combined with the latest wastewater findings, the Department is treating the single case of polio as just the tip of the iceberg of a much larger potential spread.”
Bassett said it is critical that children are vaccinated by the time they are two months old, and all adults — including pregnant women — who have not received their injections should do so immediately.
“As we learn more, what we do know is clear: The danger of polio is present in New York today,” Bassett said.
New York state health officials confirmed last month that an unvaccinated adult in a New York City suburb of Rockland County had contracted polio and was hospitalized with paralysis. Health officials then found three positive polio samples in Rockland County sewage and four positive samples in Orange County sewers.
The sewage samples that tested positive for polio are genetically linked to the strain that caught the unvaccinated adult. The findings do not indicate that the person who contracted polio was the source of transmission, but local spread could be occurring, health officials said.
“These findings provide further evidence of local – not international – transmission of a poliovirus that can cause paralysis and possible community spread, underscoring the urgency of every New York adult and child being immunized,” the New York State Department said. of Health.
According to health officials, Rockland County has a polio vaccination rate of 60%, while Orange County has a 58% vaccination rate. This is much lower than the nationwide vaccination rate of nearly 79%, officials said.
The U.S. was declared polio-free in 1979, and no case had emerged in the country since, but travelers have occasionally brought the virus into the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New York last confirmed a case of polio in 1990 and the US previously confirmed a case in 2013, according to state health officials.
Children should receive four doses of the polio vaccine. The first dose should be given at two months of age, the second dose at 4 months, the third at 18 months and the fourth at 6, according to state health officials. Unvaccinated adults should receive three doses.
Polio is a highly contagious, devastating virus that can cause paralysis. The virus struck fear into parents’ hearts in the 1940s before vaccines were available. During that period, more than 35,000 people were paralyzed by polio every year. But a successful vaccination campaign in the 1950s and 1960s drastically reduced the number of cases.