Polio: Virus found in suburban New York City wastewater

Health officials said the polio virus was present in suburban New York sewage a month before cases were detected in July, The case – the first in the US since 2013 – was found in an unnamed patient in Rockland County. Officials say no new cases have been identified, and it is not yet clear whether it is actively spreading.

Polio was largely eradicated from the US through a vaccination campaign that began in 1955. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the presence of polio in community wastewater indicates that there may be other people shedding the virus in their feces.

Officials last month said the Rockland County patient was unvaccinated, and said the man was likely exposed to individuals who received a vaccine containing a weakened live virus. Laboratory tests found the strain in the confirmed case was genetically linked to the one found in Israel, although that did not mean the patient had traveled there, officials said. It was also linked to virus samples in the United Kingdom.

Last month, UK health officials said that the virus that causes polio was detected in a number of sewage samples in London. There is no cure for polio, but it can be prevented with a vaccine. Mostly affecting children, it causes muscle weakness and paralysis, and in the most serious cases permanent disability and death.

Inactivated polio vaccines are used in the US and UK as part of routine childhood programmes. In the US, about 93% of young children have received at least three doses of the polio vaccine, according to vaccination data from the CDC. Thanks to a robust vaccine program, annual US cases dropped rapidly from less than 100 in the 1960s to less than 10 in the 1970s – and the US was declared polio-free by 1979.

On Monday, New York’s top health official Mary Bassett urged Americans of all ages to get their polio vaccine. Given how quickly polio can spread, now is the time for every adult, parent and caregiver to vaccinate themselves and their children,” he said.


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