Hundreds of New Yorkers may be infected with polio virus, health officials say

NEW YORK — Citing new evidence of possible “community spread,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday confirmed that a federal team has been dispatched to New York to investigate the Empire State’s first diagnosed case of polio in nearly a decade.

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“CDC continues to collaborate with the New York State Department of Health to investigate their recent polio case, including ongoing testing of wastewater samples to monitor for poliovirus and deploying a small team to New York to assist on the ground with the investigation and vaccination efforts,” an agency spokesperson said in a prepared statement, obtained by WNBC-TV on Sunday.

The state’s lone case to date was detected in an unvaccinated adult in Rockland County who suffered paralysis.

According to CBS News, New York state health officials have found indications of additional cases of the polio virus in wastewater samples from two different counties, leading them to warn that hundreds of people may be infected.

“Based on earlier polio outbreaks, New Yorkers should know that for every one case of paralytic polio observed, there may be hundreds of other people infected,” State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said in a prepared statement.

In turn, state health department officials on Thursday intensified their push for people who have not been immunized against the virus to get vaccinated “right away” because the diagnosed case could be “the tip of the iceberg” of a much wider threat, The New York Times reported.

Three positive wastewater samples from Rockford County and four from neighboring Orange County that investigators have linked genetically to the sole Rockford County diagnosis suggest that the polio virus is being spread within local communities, the health department stated in a news release issued Thursday.

“Coupled with the latest wastewater findings, the department is treating the single case of polio as just the tip of the iceberg of much greater potential spread. As we learn more, what we do know is clear: The danger of polio is present in New York today,” Bassett stated.

Polio was declared eliminated in the United States in 1979, more than two decades after vaccines became available, WNBC reported.

“We must meet this moment by ensuring that adults, including pregnant people, and young children by 2 months of age are up to date with their immunization — the safe protection against this debilitating virus that every New Yorker needs,” Bassett added.

Prior to the development of a polio vaccine in the 1950s, thousands of Americans died in polio outbreaks and tens of thousands, many of them children, were left with varying degrees of paralysis, CBS News reported.

According to the CDC’s most recent childhood vaccination data, about 93% of 2-year-olds nationwide had received at least three doses of polio vaccine, the network reported.

Meanwhile, unvaccinated adults can receive a three-dose immunization, and those who are vaccinated but considered high risk can receive a lifetime booster shot, according to the health department.