Polio Found in Rockland County, Possibly First U.S. Case in Decades

The last naturally occurring polio case in the United States was in 1979, the CDC says

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A Rockland County, NY resident has tested positive for polio, the state said Thursday, in what could be one of the first U.S. cases of the once-dreaded childhood disease in decades.

New York state health officials said the person with polio appears to have been infected by someone who received the oral polio vaccine (OPV), which hasn't been given in the United States 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," the New York State Dept. of Health said in a statement.

According to the CDC, the last confirmed case of polio in the United States to originate here was in 1979. The last case brought by a traveler was in 1993. The last time a case of any origin was found in this country was 2013.

Rockland County health officials said they learned of the infection Monday, and that the victim is an unvaccinated young adult who presented with symptoms of paralysis about a month ago and has not traveled internationally. They are conducting surveillance of family and close contacts.

"In this case, we don't know the actual source of the contraction," County Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert said at a news conference.

The county will hold a polio vaccination clinic Friday from 10 a.m. to noon at the Pomona Health Complex at 50 Sanatorium Road in Pomona, and again there on Monday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. (Click here to pre-register.)

The CDC generally recommends children get four doses of the vaccine - at two months, four months, between six and 18 months and between four and six years of age.

"Most adults do not need polio vaccine because they were already vaccinated as children," the CDC says - except for those traveling to high-risk countries, lab workers handling the virus or healthcare workers treating those who may have the virus.

Polio Symptoms

The virus that causes polio is considered very contagious, and people can spread it even if not sick. People are thought to be contagious for up to two weeks after symptoms develop.

The health department describes the symptoms this way:

"Symptoms, which can be mild and flu-like (fatigue, fever, headache, stiffness, muscle pain, vomiting), can take up to 30 days to appear, during which time an infected individual can be shedding virus to others. Though rare, some polio cases can result in paralysis or death."

Before the vaccines, polio paralyzed more than 15,000 people a year in the United States alone.

The World Health Organization says two of the three known strains of wild poliovirus are considered globally eradicated, while the third type continues to primarily affect Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the Rockland County case, the infection comes from a mutated oral vaccine strain rather than a wild type of the virus.

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