New York state and city health officials have confirmed the presence of the debilitating and deadly poliovirus in New York City wastewater, a joint press release said.
This finding indicates that polio is spreading locally, among the local population, wrote the officials. New York’s heath commissioner Mary Bassett noted that a single case of paralytic polio, there could be hundreds more undetected” And while the discovery is alarming, it is not surprising, given the steady rise of cases worldwide, years after poliovirus was thought to be eradicated.
Severe Polio Found in New York County
A case of paralytic polio, a severe form of the disease, was found in Rockland County, last month. Wastewater samples later analyzed from Rockland and Orange Counties, which are both near New York City, that were gathered earlier this summer and spring showed that poliovirus was more widely present. Prior to these findings, there have been no cases of locally transmitted polio in the U.S. since 1979.
In June 2022, British health officials also confirmed the detection of poliovirus in local sewage. This case comes after poliovirus had been declared locally eradicated in the United Kingdom in 2003. One of the innjitial signs of a polio resurgence came with the confirmed polio-related paralysis of a 3-year-old girl in Malawi last February.
Asymptomatic Cases Drive Polio Transmission
Similar to COVID-19, asymptomatic cases of the poliovirus boost the disease’s transmission. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 75 % of people who get infected do not display visible symptoms, and most of the remaining 25% experience flu-like symptoms including fever, sore throat, fatigue, nausea, headache, and stomach pain.
However, some of them develop a version of polio with more severe symptoms that affect the nervous system and can lead to full-blown, permanent paralysis. This severe case comes in about one in every 200 infections, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). tHIS paralysis can also cause death, if it impacts the person’s ability to breathe.
When polio was widespread decades back, there were hundreds of thousands of confirmed cases worldwide, every year. Many were paralyzed, and lost their lives. Some severely afflicted patients relied on iron lungs to stay alive. In the U.S. the worst outbreak occured in 1952 that paralyzed 21,269 people and killed 3,145 others.
But an extremely effective vaccine, developed by Jonas Salk, led to the disease being nearly eradicated over the course of just a few decades. Just 6 cases of the disease were reported in 2021. The polio vaccine is highly protective, and receiving all three doses is considered 99% to 100% protective, according to the CDC.
But when New York City-born virologist Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine in 1955, the disease had been neary eradicated in the next decades with only six cases reported in 2021. The CDC found that thid vaccine had been highly effective, providing 99% to 100% protection to people from the disease, if the three doses are taken.
Vaccination against the poliovirus remained widely available, recommended, and widely required in such units as the public school stem in the U.S.. However many parents opted not to vaccinate their children anyway, amid the growing anti-vax movement.
Only about 60 percent of children in New York’s Rockland County were being vaccinated against polio. Orange County shows an even lower vaccination rate. In New York City, 86.2% of children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years have been given the complete three doses of the polio vaccine. Yet in some neighborhoods, there have been much lower vax rates for polio, dipping to as low as 56.3%, making them more vulnerable to the disease.