The polio virus has been detected in wastewater from New York City, suggesting the virus is likely circulating in the city, New York’s health authorities said Friday.
The announcement came after a man in Rockland County, N.Y., north of the city, was stricken with polio that left him with paralysis. Health officials fear that the detection of polio in New York City’s wastewater could be followed by other cases of paralytic polio. The vaccination rate across the city fell slightly during the pandemic, as children’s pediatrician visits were postponed.
But most adults were vaccinated against polio as children. Across New York State, nearly 80 percent of people have been 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 immunized.
Three doses of the vaccine provides at least 99 percent protection, but in some ZIP codes fewer than two-thirds of children 5 years and younger have received that, worrying health officials.
Though many people infected with polio have no symptoms, about 4 percent will get viral meningitis and about one in 200 will become paralyzed, the health authorities say. Health authorities urged parents of children who were not yet fully vaccinated to bring them to their pediatricians.
“The risk to New Yorkers is real but the defense is so simple — get vaccinated against polio,” said Dr. Ashwin Vasan, the New York City health commissioner. “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,” he added.
Polio had already been detected in wastewater samples taken north of New York City. But Friday’s announcement was the first indication it had been detected in New York City.
Before the current outbreak the last case of polio in the United States was in 2013.