New York state health officials issued a more urgent call Thursday for unvaccinated adults and children to be inoculated against polio, citing new evidence of possible “community spread” of the dangerous virus.
Poliovirus has been detected in seven separate sewage samples in two counties adjacent to northern New York City, health officials said.
So far, only one person has tested positive for polio, an unvaccinated adult in Rockland County who suffered from paralysis.
But based on past outbreaks of the disease, “New Yorkers should know that for every reported case of paralytic polio, there may be hundreds of people infected,” said state health commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett in a statement. release.
“Coupled with the latest findings in sewage samples, the department is treating the single case of polio as the tip of the iceberg of a much larger potential spread,” she explained. “As we learn more, what we know is clear: the danger of polio is present in New York today. We must meet this moment by ensuring that adults, including pregnant women, and young children up to two months of age are up to date on their immunizations, the safe protection against this debilitating virus that every New Yorker needs.”
The Rockland County polio patient is the first case of a person known to be infected with the virus in the United States in nearly a decade. Sewage samples collected in June and July in neighboring Orange County also contained the virus.
Polio, once one of the nation’s most feared diseases, was declared eradicated in the United States in 1979, more than two decades after vaccines became available.
Most people who get polio have no symptoms, but can continue to spread the virus to others for days or weeks. A small percentage of people who become infected become paralyzed. The disease is fatal for between 5 and 10% of the paralyzed.
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