New York health officials confirmed last Thursday that a case of polio was recently reported in Rockland County, the first time the highly infectious virus has been reported in the US since 2013.
The nearly eradicated disease, which can affect the nervous system and cause muscle weakness, is incredibly contagious and can be dangerous or even fatal to those who aren’t vaccinated.
Officials encouraged anyone unaware of their vaccinations to get them immediately.
“The polio vaccine is safe and effective, protects against this potentially debilitating disease, and has been part of the backbone of required routine childhood immunizations recommended by health officials and public health agencies across the country.” said State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Mary. Bassett.
Officials did not share personal details about the infected Rockland resident, but said viral sequencing confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the strain likely originated somewhere outside the US.
People infected with polio can still spread the virus even if they are not sick, as symptoms can take up to 30 days to appear. Symptoms include fatigue, fever, headache, stiffness, muscle pain, and vomiting.
Some cases of polio can lead to paralysis or death, authorities have warned.
“Many of you may be too young to remember polio, but when I was a child, this disease struck fear in families, including mine,” Rockland County Executive Education Day said.
“The fact that it is still around decades after the vaccine was created shows how relentless it is. Do the right thing for your child and for the good of your community and get your child vaccinated now.”
The polio vaccine, first introduced in 1955, led to a national vaccination program that dramatically reduced cases and ultimately led to the virus being completely eliminated from the US in 1979.
In 2000, the US switched to an inactivated polio vaccine, while many other countries still use the original vaccine that includes a small amount of live virus. The Rockland case shows signs of originating from a live vaccine administered somewhere outside the US.
Since the polio vaccine is still included in the CDC‘s standard childhood immunization schedule, those who are already vaccinated are considered to be at lower risk.
However, officials encourage those who are unvaccinated, pregnant, or have not completed their polio vaccination series previously, to get vaccinated.
Rockland County and state officials said they would host local vaccine clinics along with providers in the area.
“The Rockland County Health Department is working with our local healthcare partners and community leaders to notify the public and make the polio vaccine available,” said County Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert. .
Rockland was the epicenter of a measles outbreak in 2018 and 2019 in which the now-rare viral infection spread largely among children in Orthodox Jewish communities whose parents refused to vaccinate them.
That outbreak prompted lawmakers in New York to end vaccination exemptions based on religious belief.