The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has deployed a team to investigate a polio case in Rockland County, New York, as local officials fear that there could be thousands of undiagnosed cases in the state.
The breadth of the CDC’s investigation, how long they will be present or if their findings will ever be made public are not known. Officials present also plan to help distribute shots of the polio vaccine to the Rockland community – which has an extremely low jab rate of only 60 percent.
New York state officials announced the detection of the nation’s first polio cases in over a decade in Rockland County in July. The infected man experienced paralysis, but is now recovering at home. In the time since, wastewater surveillance has detected the virus in both Rockland and in nearby Orange county.
The detection of at least one symptomatic case likely means there are others elsewhere, though, and that is near-confirmed by the findings in Orange county. Because in many cases the virus is either asymptomatic or so mild a person will not realize it is polio, one severe case could mean there are many others that are more mild.
One Rockland officials warned Monday that there could even be ‘thousands’ of cases circulating in the state.
Officials in New York are warning that there may already be ‘hundreds’ of New Yorkers infected with polio after at least three wastewater samples were detected across two counties just outside of New York City, Rockland and Orange (pictured)
Common symptoms of polio include high temperatures, extreme fatigue, headaches, vomiting, stiff neck and muscle pain
‘There isn’t just one case of polio if you see a paralytic case. The incidence of paralytic polio is less than one percent,’ Dr Patricia Schnabel Ruppert,health commissioner for Rockland County, told BBC.
‘There isn’t just one case of polio if you see a paralytic case. The incidence of paralytic polio is less than one percent,’ Dr Patricia Schnabel Ruppert, health commissioner for Rockland County, told BBC.
‘Most cases are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, and those symptoms are often missed.
‘So there are hundreds, perhaps even thousands of cases that have occurred in order for us to see a paralytic case.’
The CDC is working to learn more about this outbreak, and even to prevent more cases by providing jabs to the local community.
The two afflicted counties so far, Rockland and Orange, both are among those with the lowest vaccination rates in America at around 60 percent each.
Dr Mary Bassett (pictured), New York health commissioner, warns that there may be hundreds of undetected polio cases in the state
‘CDC continues to collaborate with the New York State Department of Health to investigate a recent case of paralytic polio in an unvaccinated individual from Rockland County,’ the agency wrote to ABC.
‘These efforts include 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.’
A vaccinated person has little to worry about, and the U.S. has vaccine coverage of over 90 percent.
Many had to receive the jabs to go to primary school. Inoculation lasts for life and there is no booster required for a person to stay safe from the virus.
Ruppert is not the only expert to sound the alarm about a breadth of cases in the state.
‘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,’ Dr Mary Bassett, the state’s health commissioner said last week.
‘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. 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.’
New York state officials launched polio surveillance efforts in response to the case confirmed on July 21.
Polio: Once the most feared disease in America that has now become a rarity
Polio is a serious viral infection that used to be common all over the world.
The virus lives in the throat and intestines for up to six weeks, with patients most infectious from seven to 10 days before and after the onset of symptoms.
But it can spread to the spinal cord causing muscle weakness and paralysis.
The virus is more common in infants and young children and occurs under conditions of poor hygiene.
How deadly is it?
Most people show no signs of infection at all but about one in 20 people have minor symptoms such as fever, muscle weakness, headache, nausea and vomiting.
Around one in 50 patients develop severe muscle pain and stiffness in the neck and back.
Less than one per cent of polio cases result in paralysis and one in 10 of those result in death.
Of those who develop symptoms, these tend to appear three-to-21 days after infection and include:
- High temperature
- Sore throat
- Abdominal pain
- Aching muscles
- Nausea and vomiting
How does it spread?
People can catch polio via droplets in the air when someone coughs or sneezes, or if they come into contacted with the feces of an infected person.
This includes food, water, clothing or toys.
Is polio still around in the U.S.?
The last case of person-to-person transmission in the U.S. was in 1979, which was also marked the last wild polio case.
But there have been several dozen cases of vaccine-derived polioviruses since, although they have been one-offs, with no onward transmission.
The case was confirmed in an Orthodox Jewish man in his 20s. He himself is unvaccinated, and contracted the vaccine-derived version of the virus.
Vaccine-derived polio can form when a person receives a live-virus vaccine – an oral immunization that can pass the virus on to others through fecal contamination.
That vaccine is no longer used in America, meaning it likely transmitted from a person that receive it abroad and eventually made it back to this New York man.
He suffered paralysis as a result of his infection and is now recovering at home after a hospital stay. It was reported earlier this week that he is still struggling to walk.
Given his lack of international travel during the standard infection period, it is likely that he contracted the virus stateside. This alerted officials to begin surveillance.
Wastewater sampling detected polio in Rockland county in June. It was also detected in Orange county in June and July.
‘Given how quickly polio can spread, now is the time for every adult, parent, and guardian to get themselves and their children vaccinated as soon as possible,’ Basset said.
Polio is a potentially disabling and life-threatening disease, which in serious cases can spread to the spinal cord triggering paralysis and even death.
It is highly contagious and spreads after someone touches a surface contaminated with an infected person’s feces and then their own mouth.
About one in four people who catch the virus develop flu-like symptoms including a sore throat, fever, tiredness and stomach pain.
One in 25 will go on to suffer meningitis — when the spinal cord is infected — and later paralysis. Of these, up to one in ten die from the infection.
It was once the most feared disease in the U.S., sparking panic throughout the 1940s.
Parents were left afraid to let their children play outside — particularly in summer when the virus appeared to be more common —, and public health officials would impose quarantines on homes and even whole towns where it was spotted.
It was behind more than 15,000 paralyses every year, and hundreds of deaths.
But in the mid-1950s the country began rolling out poliovirus vaccines to prevent the disease.
By 1979, the United States declared the virus had been eliminated. There has been no known transmission on U.S. soil since.
The vaccine was also rolled out globally, with the virus pushed back to just a few countries.
It is now only known to be circulating in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The WHO warns that as long as it continues to spread there, it remains a threat to the world.
But in recent years — as the virus has retreated from the national memory — vaccination rates have slowed in the United States.
Latest figures show now about 92.6 percent of Americans are vaccinated against polio by their second birthday.
This is below the 95 percent threshold the WHO says is needed to stop an outbreak.