New York — The polio virus in New York City’s wastewater has been found in another sign that the disease, which had not been seen in the US in a decade, is quietly spreading among unvaccinated people. Health officials said on Friday.
The city and New York state health departments said the presence of poliovirus in the city’s wastewater suggests the possibility of local spread of the virus.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said the detection of poliovirus in wastewater samples in New York City is worrying, but not surprising.
“The risk to New Yorkers is real but prevention is so simple – get vaccinated against polio,” New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan said in a statement. “With polio spreading in our communities, nothing is more essential than vaccination to protect our children from this virus, and if you are an illiterate or incompletely vaccinated adult, please choose to receive the vaccine now. Polio is completely preventable and its reappearance should be a call to action for all of us.”
The announcement came soon after British health officials reported evidence of the virus spreading in London, but no people were found. Children aged 1-9 in London were made eligible for a booster dose of the polio vaccine on Wednesday.
In New York, a man in Rockland County, north of the city, suffered paralysis weeks earlier due to a polio infection. The virus was found in wastewater samples collected in June in both Rockland and nearby Orange County.
Most people infected with polio have no symptoms, but they can still pass the virus to others for days or weeks. The vaccination offers strong protection and officials urged those who have not gotten the shot to seek one immediately.
Officials said that based on past outbreaks, it is possible that hundreds of people in the state may have contracted polio and did not know it.
Polio was once one of the country’s most dreaded diseases, with annual outbreaks causing thousands of cases of paralysis. This disease mostly affects children.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccines became available in 1955, and a national vaccination campaign reduced the annual number of US cases to less than 100 in the 1960s and less than 10 in the 1970s.
A small percentage of people with polio suffer from paralysis. The disease is fatal for 5-10% of people who are paralyzed.
New York requires all school children to get the polio vaccine, but both Rockland and Orange counties are known centers of vaccine resistance.