Polio Fears Rise in New York Amid Possible Community Spread

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York state health officials issued a more urgent call Thursday for unvaccinated children and adults to get inoculated against polio, citing new evidence of possible “community spread” of the dangerous virus.

According to health officials, the Polio virus was found in 7 different samples from wastewater in 2 adjacent counties north-east of New York City.

So far, only one person has tested positive for polio—an unvaccinated adult in Rockland County who suffered paralysis.

But based on earlier polio outbreaks, “New Yorkers should know that for every one case of paralytic polio observed, there may be hundreds of other people infected,” the state’s health commissioner, Dr. Mary T. Bassett, said in a statement.

“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.”

Rockland County’s Polio Patient is the nation’s first known case of the virus. It has been nearly 10 years since the last time the virus was detected in America. The virus was also found in wastewater samples taken in July and June in Orange County.

Polio, once one of the nation’s most feared diseases, was declared eliminated in the United States in 1979, more than two decades after vaccines became available.

Most people who are infected by polio do not experience any symptoms. However, they can transmit the virus to others for several days or even weeks. Paralysis is a rare condition that can be caused by the virus. Paralysis can lead to death in between 5- 10% of paralyzed people.

New York’s schoolchildren must have the polio vaccine. However, some schools may not be able to enforce these rules. Rockland County and Orange are known for being centers of vaccine resistance. About 79% have received their polio vaccine series in the state by the age of two. Orange County’s rate is 59%. It is 60 percent in Rockland.

For COVID-19 testing, the wastewater samples from Orange County were first collected at municipal wastewater treatment plants.

“It is concerning that polio, a disease that has been largely eradicated through vaccination, is now circulating in our community, especially given the low rates of vaccination for this debilitating disease in certain areas of our County,” said Orange County Health Commissioner Irina Gelman said. “I urge all unvaccinated Orange County residents to get vaccinated as soon as medically feasible.”

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