The first case of polio in the United States in nearly a decade was identified in New York Thursday.
The New York State and Rockland County Departments of Health confirmed Thursday that a case of polio had been identified in Rockland County. State health officials said that the virus likely originated outside the U.S., as the particular strain of the virus they identified was transmitted by a person who received an oral polio vaccine, which is no longer used in the U.S.
“The New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) and the Rockland County Department of Health today alerted the public to a case of polio in a Rockland County resident,” officials wrote in a statement Thursday. “State and County health officials are advising medical practitioners and healthcare providers to be vigilant for additional cases.”
The statement notes that the polio virus typically spreads orally, usually through contact with fecal matter from an infected person, or hands contaminated by fecal matter. The disease can also spread through mouth-to-mouth contact or saliva. The disease itself, called poliomyelitis, attacks the nervous system. Symptoms can be mild and flu-like, including fatigue, muscle pain, muscle weakness, fever, and stiffness. In rare cases, it can also cause paralysis and even death. Symptoms do not typically appear for up to 30 days, during which time an infected person can still transmit the disease to others.
The disease became extremely rare with the advent of the polio vaccine. The vaccine was introduced in 1955, and a national vaccination program was conducted in the 1950s and 60s. The last naturally occurring case in the United States occurred in 1979, the statement noted. The last known case was recorded by the CDC in 2013. According to the World Health Organization, there were six cases of polio in three countries in 2021, and there have been just three cases between January and May of this year.
Officials said this case likely originated outside the U.S. in a country that uses an oral vaccine. “In this case, sequencing performed by the Wadsworth Center – NYSDOH’s public health laboratory – and confirmed by CDC showed revertant polio Sabin type 2 virus,” the statement reported. “This is indicative of a transmission chain from an individual who received the oral polio vaccine (OPV), which is no longer authorized or administered in the U.S., where only the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) has been given since 2000. This suggests that the virus may have originated in a location outside of the U.S. where OPV is administered, since revertant strains cannot emerge from inactivated vaccines.”
State health officials said they were cooperating with Rockland County and New York City Health Officials to continue investigating the case. They are also urging individuals to get vaccinated against polio. Rockland County announced in the statement that it would be opening a polio vaccination clinic Friday, July 22, and a second clinic on Monday, July 25.
“Based on what we know about this case, and polio in general, the Department of Health strongly recommends that unvaccinated individuals get vaccinated or boosted with the FDA-approved IPV polio vaccine as soon as possible,” New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said. “The polio vaccine is safe and effective, protecting against this potentially debilitating disease, and it has been part of the backbone of required, routine childhood immunizations recommended by health officials and public health agencies nationwide.”