State and local health officials have detected the poliovirus in New York City’s wastewater, a finding that indicates the virus has spread widely since first being discovered in the wastewater of a neighboring county last month.
The New York State Department of Health and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene both advised New Yorkers to get vaccinated now if they have not already completed their series of polio shots.
The discovery of poliovirus in sewage samples suggests there is already community transmission of the virus that can lead to permanent paralysis of the arms and legs, as well as death in some cases.
“For every one case of paralytic polio identified, hundreds more may be undetected,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett.
“The detection of poliovirus in wastewater samples in New York City is alarming, but not surprising. Already, the State Health Department — working with local and federal partners — is responding urgently, continuing case investigation and aggressively assessing spread,” Bassett said in a Department of Health news release.
“The best way to keep adults and children polio-free is through safe and effective immunization — New Yorkers’ greatest protection against the worst outcomes of polio, including permanent paralysis and even death,” Bassett added.
“The risk to New Yorkers is real, but the defense is so simple — get vaccinated against polio,” said New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan. “With polio circulating in our communities, there is simply nothing more essential than vaccinating our children to protect them from this virus, and if you’re an unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated adult, please choose now to get the vaccine. Polio is entirely preventable and its reappearance should be a call to action for all of us.”
This discovery is the latest in the state, where a case of polio was confirmed July 21 in Rockland County. Poliovirus was also found in wastewater samples from both Rockland and Orange counties in May, June and July.
Most adults were already vaccinated for polio as children. Those who did not receive their vaccines should talk to their health care providers, as should parents of children, to schedule an appointment for vaccination against polio, health officials said.
All children should receive four doses of the polio vaccine, typically with the first dose between the age of 6 weeks and 2 months of age, followed by doses at 4 months, sometime between 6 and 18 months, and again between 4 and 6 years old.
Those who are unvaccinated or unsure if they’ve been vaccinated should receive a total of three doses if starting the vaccine series after age 4.
Adults who have had one to two doses of polio vaccine should get one to two more doses. It does not matter how long it has been since the earlier doses, officials said.
Lower vaccine coverage rates have put communities at risk for outbreaks. Only about 86% of New York City children ages 6 months to 5 years have received three doses of the polio vaccine. Neighborhoods where coverage is less than 70% of children are of particular concern, public health officials said.
In Rockland County, vaccine rates are even lower, at just over 60%. In Orange County, the rate is just under 59%. Statewide, the rate is nearly 79% among children who have received three polio immunizations before the age of 2, officials said.
In addition to paralysis in the arms and legs, polio can be fatal if paralysis occurs in muscles used to breathe or swallow. Most people infected with the virus do not have any symptoms. Some will have flu-like symptoms, including sore throat, fever, tiredness, nausea and stomach pain.
About one in 25 people infected with poliovirus will get viral meningitis, and about one in 200 will become paralyzed.
Inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) is the only polio vaccine that has been given in the United States since 2000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It protects 99% of children who get all the recommended doses.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on poliovirus.
SOURCE: New York State Department of Health and New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, news release, Aug. 12, 2022