Polio was detected in the sewage of New York. Should you worry? Experts explain

A case of poliovirus — the first detected in the United States in nearly a decade — was found in a suburban New York community in July when health officials announced that an unvaccinated man had contracted the disease. He had not traveled overseas during the period of exposure, which suggests that he contracted it in this country. Since then, the virus has been found in wastewater samples in the state’s Rockland and Orange counties, as well as in New York City.

After a decades-long effort to eliminate polio worldwide, the virus was found through wastewater monitoring in Jerusalem and London too.

Now the authorities in the United States parents are notified to get their children vaccinated for the potentially deadly disease, which mainly affects children.

What is polio?

A box of polio vaccine.

A box of polio vaccine at a health clinic in Brooklyn, NY (Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Poliomyelitis, commonly known as polio, is an infectious and highly contagious disease that could cause paralysis and lead to death. This disease is “caused by a virus that spreads from person to person by invading the brain and spinal cord that can lead to paralysis.” The CDC notes that “1 in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis.” There is no cure for polio, but it can be prevented by vaccines.

How many different types of poliovirus exist?

Dr. William Petri, chairman of the World Health Organization’s Polio Research Committee and professor of infectious diseases at the University of Virginia, explained to Yahoo News that “there are three types of wild poliovirus” – types 1, 2 and 3.

“Two of the three have been eradicated from the world,” Petri told Yahoo News. “There are only a handful of cases of the latter, called wild poliovirus 1, which started in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and a few cases have been introduced into Africa.”

Polio patient Mona Randolph uses a respirator in 2018 to help her breathe.  Randolph, who died in 2019, was also one of the last remaining users of an iron lung in the United States.

Polio patient Mona Randolph uses a respirator in 2018 to help her breathe. Randolph, who died in 2019, was also one of the last remaining users in the United States of an iron lung, left. (Shelly Yang/Kansas City Star/TNS via Getty Images)

How can someone contract polio?

Experts say that the poliovirus is transmitted through contaminated food and water or through direct contact with an infected person. Carriers can pass the virus for weeks in their feces, and the virus circulates from those without symptoms, making it easy to infect those around them.

Petri said that in order for someone to contract polio, they would have to be “exposed to a poliovirus derived from the vaccine and again neurovirulent, which is the ability to cause paralysis.” You would have had someone who was not vaccinated, and these are both unusual cases.”

What are the symptoms of polio?

Experts say that most people who are infected with polio “will have no visible symptoms” – but, Welcome to WHO, About 1 in 4 people suffer flu symptoms including sore throat, headache and fatigue. They can also experience muscle or joint weakness, atrophy (muscle loss) or breathing problems, among others.

Bryon Backenson, an epidemiologist with the New York State Department of Health, explained to Yahoo News, “The amount of poliovirus that’s in the environment, that’s going back and forth between people, can actually increase at a relatively high rate quick”.

He said that “more [polio] Out there, the highest probability of meeting someone who is not vaccinated, and then that individual may eventually end up with the neurological signs of polio-like meningitis or even worse – life-changing paralytic poliomyelitis, causing paralysis, in. in many cases, for the rest of your life.”

What vaccines are there to prevent polio?

There are two types of vaccines to protect against polio: the inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV), which is injected, and the oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV), given by mouth.

The oral vaccine is named after Dr. Albert Bruce Sabin, who created it in 1960. Petri explained that OPV uses live polioviruses and “there is always the risk of getting a case of vaccine-derived paralysis, and This is the reason why in the United States, in 1970, we stopped using the Sabin virus vaccine, because the only cases of paralytic poliomyelitis that we saw were due to the vaccine virus becoming virulent” .

A man outside a health clinic shows his arm where he received a polio vaccination.

A man shows his arm where he received a polio vaccination at a health clinic in Brooklyn on August 17. (Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images)

“This live virus Sabin vaccine is essential for the global eradication campaign because it prevents one from being infected. You have a wonderful immunity in your gut from being infected,” he said.

IPV, also called the Salk vaccine after Dr. Jonas Salk, who developed it in 1953, is the only polio vaccine that has been given to children in the United States since 2000.

Welcome to WHOthe “polio vaccine protects children by preparing their bodies to fight the poliovirus. Almost all children (99%) who receive all the recommended doses of vaccine will be protected from polio. Therefore, the strategy to eradicate poliomyelitis is based on prevention by immunizing every child to stop transmission and, finally, make the world polio-free.

Do you need to be vaccinated against polio?

If you live in New York City or another area that has detected poliovirus, experts like Backenson recommend getting vaccinated.

“The combination of finding a paralytic case of polio more than finding it in sewage makes us try to emphasize the need to go out and vaccinate, especially if you’ve never been vaccinated before,” Backenson told Yahoo News. “Obviously, there are tens of thousands of people across the state who have never been vaccinated.”

Dr. Fabien Diomande, director of the Polio Eradication Surge Capacity Program at the Global Health Task Force, added: “The challenge is really to make sure people are vaccinated. No country is protected until let’s stop the transmission of poliovirus everywhere.”

Is polio here to stay?

Welcome to WHO, “Wild poliovirus has been eliminated” in the United States for more than 30 years: “Since 1979, no case of poliovirus caused by wild poliovirus has originated in the United States”

Petri told Yahoo News that the globe is close to eradicating wild poliovirus 1, crediting the help of the US government and the World Health Organization, as well as the support of wild poliovirus 1. Gates Foundation and the Rotary Club.

For Petri, the case of wild poliovirus 1 in New York is “only a temporary setback”.

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