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New York Declares Emergency Over Polio Spread: Why Is This Concerning?

US was declared 'polio-free' in 1979, nearly 43 years ago. But New York has now declared an emergency over polio.

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The United States was declared 'polio-free' in 1979 – almost 43 years ago.

However, in what officials are calling "going back in time," New York Governor Kathy Hochul declared a disaster emergency on 11 September, after the polio virus was detected in wastewater samples from four counties.

In July, one person was found to be infected with polio in New York state's Rockland County in July, due to which the government began wastewater surveillance.

Why is this concerning? What are the reasons for this? FIT breaks it down for you.

New York Declares Emergency Over Polio Spread: Why Is This Concerning?

  1. 1. How Does Polio Spread?

    Short for poliomyelitis virus, polio is a disease that spreads when a person comes in direct contact with a contaminated source. This could be something as common as inhaling droplets that an infected person released during coughing or sneezing, or coming into contact with the faeces of an infected person.

    "People living in areas with limited access to running water or flush toilets often contract polio from drinking water contaminated by infected human waste," says Healthline.

    Children under five are more vulnerable to the virus, apart from pregnant women, and the immunocompromised.

    People who have the virus but do not show any symptoms can also pass the virus on to others.
    Expand
  2. 2. What Are the Symptoms?

    According to MayoClinic, a majority of people who are infected with the virus don't get sick, and in most cases, are not aware they've been infected. However, it can also cause paralysis and death.

    Nonparalytic Polio: Some people who develop symptoms from the poliovirus contract a type of polio that doesn't lead to paralysis. They usually develop flu-like symptoms like fever, headache, cold, etc.

    Paralytic syndrome: This is the more serious form of the disease. While it may start with flu-like symptoms initially, the person may show signs of loss of reflexes, severe muscle aches or weakness, or loose and floppy limbs within one week.

    Expand
  3. 3. Why Is This Concerning?

    Authorities found the spread of polio through wastewater in four New York counties – Nassau, Rockland, Orange, and Sullivan.

    "The sample collected in August from Nassau County has been genetically linked to the case of paralytic polio previously identified in Rockland County, further evidence of expanding community spread," said the New York Department of Health, in a statement.

    It is important to note that there is no cure for the disease, but completing all doses of vaccines provides up to 100 percent immunity.

    But it is still a concern.

    According to Vox, over 90 percent of American children are vaccinated against polio but there are pockets in the country with low vaccination. For example, Rockland County has only a 60 percent vaccination rate for children up to 2 years of age. 

    "Almost 14 percent of New Yorkers between 6 months and 5 years old are unvaccinated, putting them at additional risk," the news website voted.

    Additionally, there is also the matter of several unreported cases of polio, putting the vulnerable population, especially the children, at further risk.

    "Based on evidence from earlier polio outbreaks, health officials estimate that for every one case of paralytic polio observed, there may be hundreds of other people infected," said the NY Health Department.

    The emergency declaration is aimed at boosting falling immunisation rates, and also to tell the state whether they are vaccinated or not. So, who should get vaccinated?

    The following are the guidelines for polio vaccination and boosters, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

    • All children under six should get four doses of the polio vaccine: at 6 weeks to 2 months of age, at 4 months of age, between 6 and 18 months old, and 4 to 6 years.

    • Those starting the polio immunisation series after 4 years of age, who are unvaccinated, should receive a total of three doses.

    • Adults who have only had one or two doses of the polio vaccine in the past should also get the remaining doses. 

    "On polio, we simply cannot roll the dice," Health Commissioner Dr Mary Bassett said in a statement. "If you or your child are unvaccinated or not up to date with vaccinations, the risk of paralytic disease is real."

    People who will or might have close contact with a person known or suspected to be infected, healthcare/virology laboratory professionals in areas where poliovirus has been detected, and people exposed to wastewater have been advised to get booster shots.

    "Do not wait to vaccinate," Dr Bassett said. "If you are unsure of you or your families' vaccination status, contact a healthcare provider, clinic, or local county health department to make sure you and your loved ones receive all recommended doses."

    Not just New York, cities like London and Jerusalem are also heightening efforts to ramp up vaccination, after fresh cases were detected for the first time in decades.

    As of now, polio remains endemic only in two countries – Afghanistan and Pakistan – where it spreads mainly through contact with faecal matter.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

How Does Polio Spread?

Short for poliomyelitis virus, polio is a disease that spreads when a person comes in direct contact with a contaminated source. This could be something as common as inhaling droplets that an infected person released during coughing or sneezing, or coming into contact with the faeces of an infected person.

"People living in areas with limited access to running water or flush toilets often contract polio from drinking water contaminated by infected human waste," says Healthline.

Children under five are more vulnerable to the virus, apart from pregnant women, and the immunocompromised.

People who have the virus but do not show any symptoms can also pass the virus on to others.
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What Are the Symptoms?

According to MayoClinic, a majority of people who are infected with the virus don't get sick, and in most cases, are not aware they've been infected. However, it can also cause paralysis and death.

Nonparalytic Polio: Some people who develop symptoms from the poliovirus contract a type of polio that doesn't lead to paralysis. They usually develop flu-like symptoms like fever, headache, cold, etc.

Paralytic syndrome: This is the more serious form of the disease. While it may start with flu-like symptoms initially, the person may show signs of loss of reflexes, severe muscle aches or weakness, or loose and floppy limbs within one week.

0

Why Is This Concerning?

Authorities found the spread of polio through wastewater in four New York counties – Nassau, Rockland, Orange, and Sullivan.

"The sample collected in August from Nassau County has been genetically linked to the case of paralytic polio previously identified in Rockland County, further evidence of expanding community spread," said the New York Department of Health, in a statement.

It is important to note that there is no cure for the disease, but completing all doses of vaccines provides up to 100 percent immunity.

But it is still a concern.

According to Vox, over 90 percent of American children are vaccinated against polio but there are pockets in the country with low vaccination. For example, Rockland County has only a 60 percent vaccination rate for children up to 2 years of age. 

"Almost 14 percent of New Yorkers between 6 months and 5 years old are unvaccinated, putting them at additional risk," the news website voted.

Additionally, there is also the matter of several unreported cases of polio, putting the vulnerable population, especially the children, at further risk.

"Based on evidence from earlier polio outbreaks, health officials estimate that for every one case of paralytic polio observed, there may be hundreds of other people infected," said the NY Health Department.

The emergency declaration is aimed at boosting falling immunisation rates, and also to tell the state whether they are vaccinated or not. So, who should get vaccinated?

The following are the guidelines for polio vaccination and boosters, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • All children under six should get four doses of the polio vaccine: at 6 weeks to 2 months of age, at 4 months of age, between 6 and 18 months old, and 4 to 6 years.

  • Those starting the polio immunisation series after 4 years of age, who are unvaccinated, should receive a total of three doses.

  • Adults who have only had one or two doses of the polio vaccine in the past should also get the remaining doses. 

"On polio, we simply cannot roll the dice," Health Commissioner Dr Mary Bassett said in a statement. "If you or your child are unvaccinated or not up to date with vaccinations, the risk of paralytic disease is real."

People who will or might have close contact with a person known or suspected to be infected, healthcare/virology laboratory professionals in areas where poliovirus has been detected, and people exposed to wastewater have been advised to get booster shots.

"Do not wait to vaccinate," Dr Bassett said. "If you are unsure of you or your families' vaccination status, contact a healthcare provider, clinic, or local county health department to make sure you and your loved ones receive all recommended doses."

Not just New York, cities like London and Jerusalem are also heightening efforts to ramp up vaccination, after fresh cases were detected for the first time in decades.

As of now, polio remains endemic only in two countries – Afghanistan and Pakistan – where it spreads mainly through contact with faecal matter.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read Latest News and Breaking News at The Quint, browse for more from fit

Topics:  Explainer   Polio eradication 

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