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By Craig Braack

Polio infection reported in Rockland County, NY

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This is the first reported case in over ten years

ALBANY, N.Y. (July 21, 2022) – The New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) and the Rockland County Department of Health today alerted the public to a case of polio in a Rockland County resident. State and County health officials are advising medical practitioners and healthcare providers to be vigilant for additional cases.

As the polio vaccine continues to be included on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) standard child immunization schedule, those already vaccinated are considered to be at lower risk. Notably, the polio vaccine is part of the required school immunization schedule for all children, and therefore school-age children are vaccinated before they start school. However, individuals who are unvaccinated, including those who are pregnant, those who have not completed their polio vaccine series previously, or community members who are concerned they have might have been exposed, should get vaccinated by Rockland County – who will be hosting local vaccine clinics – or partnering health agencies and providers in the area. Individuals who are already vaccinated but are at risk of exposure should receive a booster.

“Based on what we know about this case, and polio in general, the Department of Health strongly recommends that unvaccinated individuals get vaccinated or boosted with the FDA-approved IPV polio vaccine as soon as possible,” State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said.“The polio vaccine is safe and effective, protecting against this potentially debilitating disease, and it has been part of the backbone of required, routine childhood immunizations recommended by health officials and public health agencies nationwide.”

A viral disease that can affect the nervous system and cause muscle weakness, the polio virus typically enters the body through the mouth, usually from hands contaminated with fecal matter of an infected person. Respiratory and oral-to-oral transmission through saliva may also occur.

Polio is very contagious, and a person can spread the virus even if they aren’t sick. Symptoms, which can be mild and flu-like (fatigue, fever, headache, stiffness, muscle pain, vomiting), can take up to 30 days to appear, during which time an infected individual can be shedding virus to others. Though rare, some polio cases can result in paralysis or death.

In this case, sequencing performed by the Wadsworth Center – NYSDOH’s public health laboratory – and confirmed by CDC showed revertant polio Sabin type 2 virus. This is indicative of a transmission chain from an individual who received the oral polio vaccine (OPV), which is no longer authorized or administered in the U.S., where only the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) has been given since 2000. This suggests that the virus may have originated in a location outside of the U.S. where OPV is administered, since revertant strains cannot emerge from inactivated vaccines.

“Many of you may be too young to remember polio, but when I was growing up, this disease struck fear in families, including my own,” County Executive Ed Day said. “The fact that it is still around decades after the vaccine was created shows you just how relentless it is. Do the right thing for your child and the greater good of your community and have your child vaccinated now.”

Due to the success of the vaccine, which was introduced in 1955, and a national vaccination program, polio cases were cut dramatically in the late 1950s and early 1960s, with the last naturally occurring cases of polio in the U.S. in 1979. More recent polio cases were not wild strains, with the last known case in the U.S. recorded by CDC in 2013.

“Vaccines have protected our health against old and new viruses for decades,” New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan said. “The fact is, the urgency of safe and effective vaccines has always been here, and we need New Yorkers to protect themselves against completely preventable viruses like Polio.”

NYSDOH is coordinating with the Rockland County Department of Health and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYCDOHMH) to continue the case investigation, proactively respond, and protect communities against spread through urging vaccination, which will be supported by this multi-agency, county-led effort.

“The Rockland County Department of Health is working with our local health care partners and community leaders to notify the public and make polio vaccination available. We are monitoring the situation closely and working with the New York State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to respond to this emergent public health issue to protect the health and wellbeing of county residents,” Rockland County Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert said.

Beginning on Friday, July 22, Rockland County will host a polio vaccination clinic at the Pomona Health Complex (Building A) at 50 Sanatorium Road in Pomona, New York from 10:00 am – 12:00 pm. A second clinic at the same location will be held on Monday, July 25from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm. Anyone who is unvaccinated – including those who are pregnant – has not completed their polio vaccine series, or are concerned they have might have been exposed, should get vaccinated at the clinics. Individuals who are already vaccinated but are at risk of exposure should receive a booster, which will also be available at the clinics.

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