The polio virus has been discovered in the wastewater of New York City.
This is just another sign that the disease, which hadn’t been seen in the United States in a decade, has quietly started to spread among unvaccinated people.
Health officials from New York City, New York state, and the federal government say that the fact that the poliovirus was found in the city’s wastewater shows that the virus is likely spreading in the area.
Officials now believe the virus has been in the wastewater since May of this year.
City and state health departments didn’t say where in New York City the virus was found, but they did say that the six positive samples were taken in June and July.
Although rare, Polio can lead to paralysis and even death.
Authorities are advising parents to vaccinate their children as soon as possible against the potentially deadly disease.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said, “For every one case of paralytic polio identified, hundreds more may be undetected.”
“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 the spread. 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 risk to New Yorkers is real, but the defense is so simple — get vaccinated against polio,” city Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan said in a statement.
“With polio circulating in our communities, there is simply nothing more essential than vaccinating our children to protect them from this virus, and if you’re an unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated adult, please choose now to get the vaccine. Polio is entirely preventable, and its reappearance should be a call to action for all of us.”
Overall, 86 percent of children ages 5 and under in New York City have been vaccinated against polio.
Most adults in the United States were also vaccinated against polio as children.
Still, in some city ZIP codes, less than two-thirds of children under 5 have had at least three doses. This is a worrying number for health officials.
The announcement in New York City comes three weeks after a man in Rockland County, N.Y., just north of the city, was diagnosed with polio that left him paralyzed.
Officials from the CDC said that the virus found in wastewater samples from New York City did not have enough genetic information to tell if it was linked to the patient in Rockland County.
The news that the polio virus was found in New York City comes soon after British health officials found evidence that the virus had spread in London, but they haven’t any cases in people.
Children aged 1 to 9 in London are eligible to get a second dose of a polio vaccine.
Based on past outbreaks, there’s a possibility that hundreds of people in New York have gotten polio and don’t know it, officials said.
Before vaccines, Polio was one of the most feared diseases in the United States. The virus was most likely to infect children and caused thousands of people to become paralyzed every year.
In 1955 a vaccine became available, and a national campaign spread encouraged people to get vaccinated. In the 1960s, less than 100 people were infected yearly, which dropped to less than 10 people in the 1970s.
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