New York State health officials are urging residents in the state to get polio inoculations for unvaccinated children and adults.
The call comes after the polio virus was found in seven different wastewater samples in two counties near northern New York City.
Only one person has tested positive for the deadly virus – but he is now paralyzed, and the state’s health commissioner, Dr. Mary T. Bassett, warns that where one is discovered, many more are likely to be as well.
“New Yorkers should know that for every one case of paralytic polio observed, there may be hundreds of other people infected,” Bassett said in a statement released this weekend.
“Coupled with the latest wastewater findings, the Department is treating the single case of polio as just the tip of the iceberg of much greater potential spread,” she said.
“As we learn more, what we do know is clear: the danger of polio is present in New York today.
“We must meet this moment by ensuring that adults, including pregnant people, and young children by 2 months of age are up to date with their immunization — the safe protection against this debilitating virus that every New Yorker needs.”
Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious viral disease that mostly affects children under 5 years of age, but anyone of any age who is unvaccinated can contract the disease.
The virus invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. And there is no cure.
Initial symptoms are fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness of the neck and pain in the limbs. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis (usually in the legs), but among those who become paralyzed, 5–10 percent die when their breathing muscles become immobilized.
Inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) is the only polio vaccine that has been given in the United States since the year 2000. It is given by shot in the arm or leg, depending on the person’s age. Oral polio vaccine (OPV), which is made from a live poliovirus and is used in other countries, was discontinued in the US because the vaccine itself caused a few cases of the virus per year.
Polio is still common in some developing countries and until it is eradicated worldwide, the risk of it spreading to the US remains, WebMD warns.
For that reason, the polio vaccination remains one of the recommended childhood immunizations. In most parts of the US, polio immunization is required before a child can start school.
The vaccination is administered in four doses: one at age 2 months, another at 4 months, the third at 6-18 months and a booster at 4-6 years old. It is often given at the same time as other vaccinations.
“As long as a single child remains infected, children in all countries are at risk of contracting polio,” the WHO said.
“Failure to eradicate polio from these last remaining strongholds could result in a global resurgence of the disease.”