Polio Detected in NYC’s Sewage, Suggesting Virus Circulating

NEW YORK — The polio virus has been found in New York City’s wastewater in another sign that the disease, which hadn’t been seen in the U.S. in a decade, is quietly spreading among unvaccinated people, health officials said Friday.

The presence of the poliovirus in the city’s wastewater suggests likely local circulation of the virus, the city and New York state health departments said.

Mary T. Bassett State Health Commissioner stated that although the detection of poliovirus is concerning, it’s not alarming.

“The risk to New Yorkers is real but the defense is so simple — get vaccinated against polio,” New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan said in a statement. “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.”

Learn More Polio’s Arrival in the U.S. Is Another Urgent Reminder That Kids Need to Get Vaccinated

New York City faces polio because city officials have been unable to vaccine vulnerable groups against monkeypox. They also need to adjust to the new COVID-19 guidelines.

“We are dealing with a trifecta,” Mayor Eric Adams said Friday on CNN. “COVID is still very much here. Polio, we have identified polio in our sewage, and we’re still dealing with the monkeypox crisis. However, the team is present. And we’re coordinating and we’re addressing the threats as they come before us, and we’re prepared to deal with them with the assistance of Washington, D.C.”

After British health officials reported that the virus had spread to London, but no case was found in London, the New York City announcement regarding the discovery of the Polio virus comes just a few hours after the British Health Authorities announced the news about the New York City outbreak. Tuesday’s announcement allowed children between the ages of 1 and 9 in London to be eligible for booster doses.

A polio-infection in Rockland County near New York caused paralysis for one New Yorker weeks back. The virus was found in wastewater samples taken in Rockland County and Orange County in June.

Although most people who have been infected by polio do not experience symptoms, others can be exposed for days to weeks. Vaccination offers strong protection and authorities urged people who haven’t gotten the shots to seek one immediately.

Learn More In the COVID-19 Era, parents are faced with difficult choices about school. Here’s How People Made the Same Decisions When It Came to Polio

Based on past outbreaks, it is possible that hundreds of people in the state have gotten polio and don’t know it, officials said.

Polio was once one of the nation’s most feared diseases, with annual outbreaks causing thousands of cases of paralysis. This disease is most common in children.

In 1955 vaccines were made available. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that a national campaign to reduce the U.S. annual case to under 100 cases in the 1960s and less than 10 by the 1970s.

Only a small number of people with polio experience paralysis. Paralysis can lead to death in between 5-10%.

New York State law requires all schoolchildren to be vaccinated against polio. But Rockland, Orange and other counties have been identified as vaccine centers.

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