Polio vaccination urged in New York after virus spread detected

State health department detects polio virus in wastewater surveillance after rare US case

A medical worker takes a break outside a Brooklyn hospital in New York City. AFP
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New York state health officials on Monday called for New Yorkers to be vaccinated against polio as soon as possible, after an update suggested the virus may have spread in a New York City suburb.

The first US case of polio since 2013 was recorded in Rockland County in July and health departments moved to address the rare occurrence, as the virus is highly contagious and could cause paralysis in those infected.

"Polio is a dangerous disease with potentially devastating consequences," Health Commissioner Dr Mary Bassett said on Monday.

New York state's health department and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention found that "the polio virus was detected in [wastewater surveillance] samples from June in Rockland County".

"These findings underscore the critical importance of vaccination to protect all New Yorkers and New York children against polio," the department said.

There are no treatments or cures for polio but it can be prevented with a vaccine.

It can be spread by bodily fluids and faeces, and close contact with infected people. Children are most at risk.

Pupils in New York must complete a three-dose polio vaccine regimen to attend school.

"In the United States, we are so fortunate to have available the crucial protection offered through polio vaccination, which has safeguarded our country and New Yorkers for over 60 years," Dr Bassett said.

Polio has continued to be defined as a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organisation since 2014. Cases have been reported in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel this year.

Britain is also fighting a polio outbreak this month, and health officials are immunising children who are not fully vaccinated after the virus was found in wastewater.

The virus was eradicated from the US in the 1970s through a mass-vaccination campaign.

"Given how quickly polio can spread, now is the time for every adult, parent, and guardian to get themselves and their children vaccinated as soon as possible," Dr Bassett said.

Updated: August 01, 2022, 8:03 PM