NY Samples Show Polio Virus in Different County as State Warns of Community Spread

New York health officials say samples from the confirmed Rockland case are genetically linked to samples in Jerusalem and to recently tested samples in London -- and now polio has been detected in samples from another Hudson Valley county

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What to Know

  • More polio has been detected in Hudson Valley wastewater samples, this time Orange County, according to NYS health officials, which it says further indicates potential community spread of the virus declared eradicated in 1979
  • The CDC detected polio in samples taken from June and July in two geographically different locations in Orange County -- and has linked those to samples from Jerusalem, in Israel, and recent samples from London, England
  • The Rockland County case was an unvaccinated patient who had a vaccine-derived strain of the virus that indicates it would have been contracted by someone who got a live dose used by a country outside the US; in rare instances, people given the live virus can spread it to other people who haven’t been vaccinated.

The CDC has detected more polio virus in more Hudson Valley wastewater samples, now in a different New York county -- and state health officials are now warning that the latest environmental evidence "further indicates potential community spread" of a childhood disease that the United States declared eradicated more than four decades ago.

The state health department, which launched wastewater surveillance earlier this month after officials announced the first confirmed U.S. polio case in nearly a decade in an unvaccinated patient in Rockland County on July 21, says the CDC confirmed its presence in Orange County samples as well. Those samples were taken from June and July in two geographically different locations, officials said.

While there are no active confirmed polio cases in Orange County, according to the local county executive, it has a much lower polio vaccination rate (59.45%) among 2-year-olds than the state average (79.1%), which makes the community vulnerable.

New York health officials sought to underscore the point in a Thursday statement.

"These environmental findings—which further indicate potential community spread—in addition to the paralytic polio case identified among a Rockland County resident, underscore the urgency of every New York adult and child getting immunized against polio, especially those in the greater New York metropolitan area," it said.

Health officials say the samples from the confirmed Rockland County case appear genetically linked to two collected from the early June samples from Rockland County and samples from greater Jerusalem, Israel, as well as to the recently-detected environmental samples in London. The Rockland County resident had no known travel to London, officials said.

Wastewater surveillance is a critical detection tool that can assess potential community spread of polio, New York health officials say, and they're testing samples throughout the state to be thorough in their investigation. Those get sent to the CDC. Learn more about polio from NYSDOH here.

In the Rockland case, health officials have said the patient had acquired a “vaccine-derived” strain of the virus, meaning it probably originated in someone who had been inoculated with a live vaccine — available in other countries, but not the U.S. In rare instances, people given the live virus can spread it to other people who haven’t been vaccinated.

As to the wider implications, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative said last week that genetic and epidemiological investigations are attempting “to determine possible spread of the virus and potential risk associated with these various isolates detected from different locations around the world.”

Polio, once one of the nation’s most feared diseases, was declared eliminated in the United States in 1979, more than two decades after vaccines became available. Its discovery in Rockland County prompted a local vaccine drive.

“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,” said New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett.

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