Polio detected in New York sewage, indicating local virus circulation

NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett

Andy Katz | Pacific Press | Light rocket | Getty Images

Polio has been diagnosed in New York City, indicating a local spread of the virus, health officials said Friday.

New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett called the findings alarming. Bassett said local and federal health officials are aggressively assessing how far polio has spread in the city and upstate New York.

“For every identified case of paralytic polio, hundreds more may go undetected,” Bassett said.The best way to keep adults and children polio free is through safe and effective immunization.”

Polio can in some cases lead to permanent paralysis of the arms and legs and death. Health officials are calling on people who have not been vaccinated to get vaccinated immediately.

Routine childhood vaccinations have declined in New York City since 2019, which has increased the risk of outbreaks, according to health officials. About 14% of children in New York City between the ages of 6 months and 5 years have not completed their polio vaccination course, meaning they are not fully protected against the virus.

Overall, 86% of children ages 5 and under in New York City have received three doses of the polio vaccine, according to health officials. But there are some neighborhoods in the city where less than 70% of children in this age group have received three doses, putting children in these communities at risk of contracting polio.

New York state health officials confirmed last month that an unvaccinated adult in Rockland County, a suburb of New York City, contracted polio and was paralyzed. Polio was subsequently detected in sewage in Rockland County and neighboring Orange County.

The strain that caught the unvaccinated adult is genetically linked to the sewage samples in Rockland and Orange counties. It’s unclear where the chain of transmission began, but health officials have said the sewer samples indicate the virus has spread locally in the New York City metropolitan area.

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