By: Amelia Thyen
Photo courtesy of Navy Medicine.
In response to the detection of paralytic polio in an unvaccinated Rockland County resident earlier this year, wastewater surveillance systems were established across New York State to enhance detection of potential spread among communities. The initial case of paralytic polio was reported in July of 2022 and was the first identified case in the United States since 20131. As of September 23rd, wastewater surveillance systems have detected 69 positive samples of concern across Orange County, NY; Sullivan County, NY; New York City; and Nassau County, NY2. Of these samples, 62 have genetic links to the July Rockland County case, which public health officials say is evidence of spread among the New York community2. These findings provide evidence that the Rockland County case of paralytic polio was contracted locally within the Rockland County community, rather than from abroad, but the investigation into the origin of the virus is ongoing2.
As a result of this evidence of community spread, the governor of New York has declared a state of emergency regarding poliovirus. This declaration supports the efforts to raise the statewide polio vaccination coverage above 90%, a goal that is intended to limit community spread3. In the United States, about 93% of children have received three polio immunizations out of the four-part immunization series, by their second birthday5. The New York Statewide vaccination coverage is lower than the national average, at about 79%6. As of August 1st, 2022, the polio vaccination rates in the counties where positive wastewater samples have been reported remain low compared to both national and state levels: 58.68% of two year olds have three polio immunizations in Orange County, 60.34% of two year olds have three polio immunizations in Rockland County, 62.33% of two year olds have three polio immunizations in Sullivan County, and 79.15% of two year olds have three polio immunizations in Nassau County8. As of June 30th, 2022, 86.2% of children aged 6 months to 5 years have received three polio immunizations in New York City4. The New York State emergency declaration expands eligibility for who can administer polio vaccines and requires healthcare providers to send polio vaccination data to The New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), in an effort to track increasing vaccination rates in the coming weeks3.
There is no known cure for polio, but the polio vaccine is safe and effective at limiting community spread; three doses of inactivated polio vaccine, which is the only polio vaccination currently administered in the United States, is 99% to 100% effective against paralytic polio7. NYSDOH urges all New Yorkers to check the immunization status of themselves and their families, and to get themselves and their children up-to-date with polio immunizations as soon as possible2. Local county health departments, including the department in Rockland County, are offering free polio vaccine clinics6. New Yorkers can also schedule appointments with their healthcare provider to receive poliovirus vaccines. NYSDOH also suggests the increased use of handwashing to prevent the spread of poliovirus, as alcohol-based sanitizers do not work on certain germs, including polio3. This is an ongoing public health threat, and it is crucial to continue vaccination efforts in order to prevent further spread of polio in the New York community and beyond.