NEW YORK -- The polio virus has been detected in sewage in New York City, indicating local circulation, health officials said Friday.
The New York state and New York City departments of health confirmed the presence of the virus in the wastewater and urged unvaccinated people to get vaccinated against the illness, which can cause permanent paralysis of the arms and legs and even death in some cases.
"For every one case of paralytic polio identified, hundreds more may be undetected," state Health Commissioner Dr. 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."
The findings follow the identification of a case of paralytic polio among a Rockland County resident on July 21, and the detection of poliovirus in wastewater samples collected in May, June and July from neighboring New York City counties, Rockland and Orange County.
That person, the first to have polio in the United States in nearly a decade, is believed to have been infected by someone who received the oral polio vaccine overseas. The oral vaccine is no longer offered in the United States.
"The risk to New Yorkers is real, but the defense is so simple - get vaccinated against polio," New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan said. "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."
RELATED | Polio: What to know about signs, symptoms of virus as fears rise
The health officials say the detection underscores the urgency of every adult, including pregnant New Yorkers and children, staying up to date with the polio immunization schedule, particularly those in the greater New York metropolitan area.
Officials will continue their active, ongoing wastewater surveillance efforts in partnership with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and to ensure prevention measures, particularly immunization clinics, are in place as the best way to keep New Yorkers and children polio-free is to maintain high immunity across the population through safe and effective immunization.
As of Aug. 1, 2022, Rockland County has a polio vaccination rate of 60.34% and Orange County has a polio vaccination rate of 58.68%, compared to the statewide average of 78.96%, among children who have received three polio immunizations before their second birthday.
Polio can lead to permanent paralysis of the arms and legs and can be fatal due to paralysis in the muscles used to breathe or swallow, though most people infected with the virus do not have any symptoms.
Still, some will have flu-like symptoms, like sore throat, fever, tiredness, nausea and stomach pain.
One in 25 people with infection will get viral meningitis, and about one in 200 will become paralyzed.
While there is no cure for polio, it is preventable through safe and effective immunization.
As a core component of the CDC's childhood immunization schedule that is required for all school-aged children, most children are already vaccinated.
According to the CDC, inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV), which is the only polio immunization that has been given in the United States since 2000, protects 99% of children who get all the recommended doses.
The most important way for children and adults to protect themselves from polio is to get vaccinated right away if they have not received all recommended polio vaccine doses.
Health officials have increased communication to healthcare providers, stressing the importance of the on-time administration of the polio vaccine among their patients.
In accordance with CDC:
--All children should get four doses of the polio vaccine, with the first dose given at 6 weeks through 2 months of age, followed by one dose given at 4 months of age, 6 through 18 months old, and 4 through 6 years old
--People who are unvaccinated or are unsure if they have been immunized should receive a total of 3 doses if starting the vaccine series after age 4
--Adults who have only had 1 or 2 doses of the polio vaccine in the past should get the remaining 1 or 2 doses - it does not matter how long it has been since the earlier doses
Most adults do not need polio vaccine because they were already vaccinated as children.
New Yorkers who are not up-to-date with vaccination should speak to their health care provider or their child's provider to schedule an appointment for vaccination.