Polio has been detected in New York City sewage, officials say

The polio virus has been found in New York City sewage, suggesting the virus is likely circulating in the city, New York health authorities said Friday.

The announcement came after a man in Rockland County, NY, north of the city, was stricken with polio that left him paralyzed. Health officials fear the detection of polio in New York City’s sewage could be followed by other cases of paralyzed polio. Vaccination rates in the city fell slightly during the pandemic as pediatrician visits were postponed.

But most adults were vaccinated against polio as children. In New York state, nearly 80 percent of people are vaccinated. The spread of the virus poses a risk to unvaccinated people, but the polio vaccine is nearly 100 percent effective in people who have been fully vaccinated.

Three doses of the vaccine provide at least 99 percent protection, but in some zip codes, less than two-thirds of children ages 5 and under have received it, troubling health officials.

While many people infected with polio have no symptoms, about 4 percent will develop viral meningitis and about one in 200 will become paralyzed, health authorities say. Health authorities urged parents of children who had not yet been fully vaccinated to take them to their pediatrician.

“The risk to New Yorkers is real, but the defense is so simple — get vaccinated against polio,” said Dr. Ashwin Vasan, New York City’s health commissioner. “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,” he added.

Polio had already been detected in wastewater samples taken north of New York City. But Friday’s announcement was the first indication that it had been discovered in New York City.

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