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CDC Sends Small Team to Investigate Polio in New York State

A single case was identified last month, and wastewater samples shows the potential for more cases.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sent a small team of federal investigators to New York State to investigate polio, after wastewaters in the state contained the virus and a single individual in Rockland County was diagnosed with it.

“CDC continues to collaborate with the New York State Department of Health to investigate their recent polio case, including ongoing testing of wastewater samples to monitor for poliovirus and deploying a small team to New York to assist on the ground with the investigation and vaccination efforts,” an agency spokesperson said in a prepared statement.

Wastewater samples tested from Rockland County Sewer District #1 (which serves large portions of Ramapo and Clarkstown and some parcels of Orangetown) from June 2022, revealed detectable polio virus. This may have been from the singular confirmed case so the significance of this is unknown. It was not detected in the Orangetown Sewer District area during the same period, according to a statement from Rockland County. It has been reported polio was also found in samples in Orange County, New York.

Rockland County, the state and CDC are collecting and conducting tests of wastewater samples to determine if the virus is circulating. This determination may take time, the same statement said.

The single case of polio is reported to be an unvaccinated 20 year old man who contracted the virus. The person is said to have suffered paralysis. No other information is available about the patient’s condition.

This is the first case here in the United States since 2013. The last case to originate here was in 1979. Polio can originate from different countries and travelers can bring it back to the US.

The Orange and Rockland counties in New York state border each other and northern New Jersey, and are less than 40 miles from New York City.

There are public health concerns that people may have asymptomatic polio, do not know they have it, and could spread the virus. The virus typically enters the body through the mouth, usually from hands contaminated with the stool of an infected person. It can also happen with respiratory and oral-to-oral transmission through saliva.

Polio History and Vaccination Efforts
Talk to anyone who was alive during the late 1940s or early 1950s and there was a palpable fear for families were afraid to send their kids outside to play as the virus seemed to peak during the summer months.1 In the late 40s, polio was disabling an average of more than 35,000 people each year.1

"Many of you may be too young to remember polio, but when I was growing up, this disease struck fear in families, including my own," Rockland County Executive Ed Day said in a statement. "The fact that it is still around decades after the vaccine was created shows you just how relentless it is. Do the right thing for your child and the greater good of your community and have your child vaccinated now."

Along with thousands of children, President Franklin Roosevelt contracted polio as an adult and as a result suffered paralysis from the waist down throughout the rest of his life. Although he managed to live with the condition, during the acute phase when he first contracted the virus, he suffered greatly becoming paralyzed within days on the infection, high fevers, and incontinence.2

Following introduction of polio vaccines, the number of polio cases fell rapidly to less than 100 in the 1960s and fewer than 10 in the 1970s.1

For people who are not vaccinated against polio, public health officials are asking they speak to their medical providers and get vaccinated.

"Based on what we know about this case, and polio in general, the Department of Health strongly recommends that unvaccinated individuals get vaccinated or boosted with the FDA-approved IPV polio vaccine as soon as possible," New York State Health Commissioner Mary T. Bassett,MD, MPH, said in a statement. "The polio vaccine is safe and effective, protecting against this potentially debilitating disease, and it has been part of the backbone of required, routine childhood immunizations recommended by health officials and public health agencies nationwide."

References

1. Polio Elimination in the United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed August 8, 2022. Page reviewed August 3, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/polio/what-is-polio/polio-us.html

2. Paralytic illness of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Wikipedia. Accessed August 8, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paralytic_illness_of_Franklin_D._Roosevelt#:~:text=Roosevelt%20was%20left%20permanently%20paralyzed,using%20his%20wheelchair%20in%20public.