'Alarming' New Find on Polio in New York State

After emerging in Hudson Valley, virus pops up in NYC sewage, suggesting local circulation
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 12, 2022 1:46 PM CDT
'Alarming' New Find on Polio in New York State
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/SeventyFour)

(Newser) – Polio appears to be working its way south through New York state, now making an appearance in New York City sewage after earlier showing up in wastewater in Orange and Rockland counties, reports CNBC. That suggests the virus is now circulating locally, spreading quietly among the unvaccinated. It's an "alarming, but not surprising" find, New York State Health Commissioner Mary Bassett says in a release, warning that "for every one case of paralytic polio identified, hundreds more may be undetected." The news comes three weeks after an unvaccinated man in Rockland County was paralyzed and hospitalized from the illness, per the New York Times.

It's not exactly clear where in the city the samples tested positive, or when. Most cases of polio are asymptomatic, while other patients experience flulike symptoms, including fever, sore throat, and nausea. The most severe cases, however, can lead to permanent paralysis of the limbs and even death. One in 25 people who contract the virus will get viral meningitis, while 1 in 200 will become paralyzed, per New York City's Health Department. Health officials are urging anyone who's not vaccinated against the incurable infectious disease to do so, as a three-dose vaccine regimen offers at least 99% protection.

Those who should be getting their shots include pregnant New Yorkers and children, health officials say. About 14% of kids under the age of 5 in New York City haven't received their full round of polio vaccines—but in some neighborhoods of the Big Apple, the unvaccinated in that age group reaches more than 30%, making it even more likely that polio can take hold in those places. Most US adults, meanwhile, were vaccinated against polio when they were kids. "Polio is entirely preventable," NYC Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan tells the Times. "The risk to New Yorkers is real but the defense is so simple—get vaccinated against polio." (Read more polio stories.)

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