Polio detected in New York City sewage fostering fears of local spread

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Polio has been detected in New York City’s sewage indicating local spread of the virus, health officials said on Friday.

New York State Health Commissioner Dr Mary Bassett called the findings alarming.

Local and federal health officials are trying to assess how far the virus may have spread in the city and state.

“For every one case of paralytic polio identified, hundreds more may be undetected,” Dr Bassett said. “The best way to keep adults and children polio-free is through safe and effective immunisation.”

“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 in a statement.

The virus can cause permanent paralysis of the arms and legs and in some cases lead to death.

“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.”

While most people are vaccinated against the disease, routine vaccinations among children have declined in the city since 2019.

Approximately 14 per cent of New York City children aged under five have not completed their vaccination series against the virus, meaning they are not fully protected.

State health officials confirmed in July that an unvaccinated adult in Rockland County, in suburban New York City, had caught polio and suffered paralysis.

Polio was subsequently detected in sewage in Rockland County and neighboring Orange County.

The strain that the unvaccinated adult caught is genetically linked to the sewage samples in Rockland and Orange counties.

It is unclear how transmission of the virus began, but health officials have said the sewage samples indicate that there is local spread in the New York City metropolitan area.

There has not been a polio outbreak in the US for a decade, and officials believe that based on past incidents hundreds of people in the state may have been infected and don’t know it.

Once one of the most feared diseases, vaccines have been available since the 1950s bringing the number of annual cases of paralysis from polio down from the thousands to less than 10 by the 1970s.

While the polio vaccine is a requirement in New York schools, pockets of resistance exist.

An outbreak of polio in London has seen health officials offer booster shots to children under 10 years old.