Aug 12, 2022 - Health

New York City health officials identify polio in wastewater samples

An airplane flying over lower Manhattan in New York City on Aug. 11.

An airplane flying over lower Manhattan in New York City on Aug. 11. Photo: Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

New York City public health officials urged people on Friday to get vaccinated against polio after the virus was detected in samples taken from the city's sewage system, suggesting "likely local circulation of the virus" in the city.

Why it matters: The detection of polio in wastewater in New York City follows the identification of the virus in other sewage samples taken from two New York counties, Rockland and Orange, in the last two months.

Threat level: The discovery provides more evidence of local transmission of the highly contagious virus — which can lead to permanent disability and death — in the state.

  • At least one person in Rockland County has tested positive for polio so far, though health officials believe the virus likely originated abroad based on the strain of the virus that was detected.
  • It was the first polio case discovered in the U.S. in years, setting off warnings for health practitioners to be on the lookout for additional cases, Axios' Ivana Saric reports.

What they're saying: “For every one case of paralytic polio identified, hundreds more may be undetected,” New York Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said.

  • “The detection of poliovirus in wastewater samples in New York City is alarming, but not surprising. Already, the State Health Department – working with local and federal partners – is responding urgently, continuing case investigation and aggressively assessing spread," Bassett added.
  • "The best way to keep adults and children polio-free is through safe and effective immunization – New Yorkers’ greatest protection against the worst outcomes of polio, including permanent paralysis and even death."

The big picture: Experts have said that the U.S. is protected from the widespread transmission of polio in areas that are with high vaccination rates against the virus, Axios' Arielle Dreher and Tina Reed report.

  • They stressed that unvaccinated people living in communities where polio has been detected in the wastewater system should get vaccinated.

By the numbers: New York City's health department said Friday that vaccination rates among children in the city for recommended vaccines have fallen, including the polio vaccine.

  • Only 86.2% of children in the city between the ages of 6 months and 5 years old had received 3 doses of the polio vaccine — meaning that nearly 14% were not fully protected.
  • As of Aug. 1, Rockland County had a polio vaccination rate of 60.3% and Orange County had a polio vaccination rate of 58.6%, compared to the statewide average of 78.9%, among children who have received 3 polio immunizations before their second birthday, the department said.

Go deeper: Wastewater testing for diseases becoming the standard

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