Polio found in Rockland wastewater, NY Health Dept. says vaccination 'critical'

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Poliovirus. Transmission Electron Micrograph Of Poliovirus Type 1. Virions Are 20 30 Nm In Diameter And Have Icosahedral Symmetry. Photo credit BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images

ALBANY, N.Y. (1010 WINS) — The New York State Health Department on Monday pleaded with all New Yorkers, including pregnant women and children 2 months and older, to get vaccinated for polio "right away" if they have not previously been.

The urging comes nearly two weeks after an unvaccinated man from Rockland County contracted the virus and developed paralysis.

Following that first U.S. case in nearly a decade, the department said Monday that analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention detected polio in wastewater samples in the county.

The Global Polio Laboratory Network, which includes the CDC and the World Health Organization, received these samples and confirmed that the Rockland County case is genetically linked to two type 2 Sabin-like isolates, which were obtained from the early June Rockland County samples and samples from greater Jerusalem, Israel. It doesn't necessarily mean that the infected man had traveled before to Israel.

"These findings underscore the critical importance of vaccination to protect all New Yorkers and New York children against polio," NYSDOH said in its press release.

Rarely, travelers have brought polio infections into the U.S. The last such case was in 2013, when a 7-month-old who had recently moved to the U.S. from India was diagnosed in San Antonio, Texas, according the federal health officials. That child also had the type of polio found in the live form of vaccine used in other countries.

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"Polio is a dangerous disease with potentially devastating consequences," Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said. "In the United States, we are so fortunate to have available the crucial protection offered through polio vaccination, which has safeguarded our country and New Yorkers for over 60 years. 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."

Unvaccinated New Yorkers who live, work, go to school in, or visit Rockland County are at the highest risk of exposure. Rockland County currently has a polio vaccination rate of nearly 61% among two year-olds compared to the statewide average of over 79%.

Polio was once one of the nation's most feared diseases, with annual outbreaks causing thousands of cases of paralysis. The disease mostly affects children.

Vaccines became available starting in 1955, and a national vaccination campaign cut the annual number of U.S. cases to less than 100 in the 1960s and fewer than 10 in the 1970s, according to the CDC.

In 1979, polio was declared eliminated in the U.S., meaning there was no longer routine spread.

There are two types of polio vaccines. The U.S. and many other countries use shots made with an inactivated version of the virus. But some countries where polio has been more of a recent threat use a weakened live virus that is given to children as drops in the mouth. In rare instances, the weakened virus can mutate into a form capable of sparking new outbreaks.

Polio spreads mostly from person to person or through contaminated water. It can infect a person’s spinal cord, causing paralysis and possibly permanent disability and death.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.