Polio detected in NYC sewers, suggesting virus circulating

NEW YORK (AP) — The polio virus has been found in New York City’s sewage, another sign that the disease, which hadn’t been seen in the US for a decade, is quietly spreading among unvaccinated people, health officials said Friday.

The presence of the polio virus in the city’s wastewater suggests a likely local circulation of the virus, the city and New York State health departments said.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said the detection of poliovirus in wastewater samples in New York City is alarming but not surprising.

“The risk to New Yorkers is real, but the defense is so simple: Get vaccinated against polio,” said New York Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan, in a statement. “Now that polio is circulating in our communities, there is simply nothing more essential than vaccinating our children to protect them from this virus, and if you are an unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated adult, choose now to get the vaccine. Polio is completely preventable and its return should be a call to action for all of us.”

New York City is forced to face polio as city health officials struggle to vaccinate vulnerable populations against monkey pox and adapt to changing COVID-19 guidelines.

“We are dealing with a trifecta,” Mayor Eric Adams told CNN on Friday. “COVID is still very much present. Polio, we’ve been diagnosed with polio in our sewers, and we’re still dealing with the monkeypox crisis. But the team is here. And we are coordinating and addressing the threats as they come before us, and we are ready to address them with the help of Washington, DC.”

The announcement about the polio virus discovery in New York City comes shortly after UK health authorities reported finding evidence of the virus spreading in London but finding no human cases. Children aged 1-9 in London were eligible for booster doses of a polio vaccine Wednesday.

In New York, a person was paralyzed by a polio infection in Rockland County weeks ago, north of the city. Wastewater samples collected in both Rockland and adjacent Orange County in June were found to contain the virus.

Most people infected with polio have no symptoms, but can still pass the virus on to others for days or weeks. Vaccination offers strong protection and authorities urged people who have not yet received the injections to seek one immediately.

Based on past outbreaks, it’s possible hundreds of people in the state have contracted polio and don’t know it, officials said.

Polio was once one of the country’s most feared diseases, with annual outbreaks causing thousands of cases of paralysis. The disease mainly affects children.

Vaccines became available in 1955, and a national vaccination campaign cut the annual number of U.S. cases to less than 100 in the 1960s and less than 10 in the 1970s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A small percentage of people with polio suffer from paralysis. The disease is fatal for 5-10% of the paralyzed.

All schoolchildren in New York City are required to have a polio vaccine, but Rockland and Orange counties are both known as vaccine resistance centers.

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