New York State officials have declared a disaster over the polio outbreak in the states, where there has been one confirmed case and dozens of positive wastewater samples dating back to April.
The move was announced Friday by the office of Gov Kathy Hochul. In a press release, officials say the move “enables necessary government agencies to take appropriate action to help local governments and individuals manage, prepare for, respond to and recover from this state disaster emergency.”
The Empire State first discovered a case of the devastating virus in Rockland County — just outside the Bronx borough of New York City — on July 21. Since then, sewage monitoring has also detected the virus in the city itself and in nearby Orange and Sullivan counties. On Friday, officials revealed that Nassau County, also just outside the Big Apple, had also detected the virus in its wastewater monitoring.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed in August that further investigations in New York have found at least 21 positive samples of the virus. One of the samples was collected as early as April, meaning the devastating virus could have been circulating for months before it was discovered.
Last month, a local Rockland County official warned that while only one case had been discovered so far, the actual number of New Yorkers infected could be in the thousands.
According to the CDC, only about one in 1,900 polio infections in unvaccinated individuals will lead to paralysis. Officials assure the public that a vaccinated person has little to worry about with the current outbreak. More than 90 percent of Americans are vaccinated on their second birthday — and many had to get the shot to attend public school. There is no polio vaccine booster and childhood vaccination provides protection for a person’s entire life.
Both Rockland and Orange County have vaccination rates in the 1960s, significantly lower than the 95 percent set by the World Health Organization (WHO) to control the virus
“We just can’t play dice with polio,” said Dr Mary Basset, the state health commissioner, in a statement on the Nassau County findings.
‘If you or your child are not vaccinated or are not aware of the vaccinations, the risk of paralysis is real. I urge New Yorkers not to take any chances at all.”
The move of Hochul’s office will allow additional funds and supplies to be spent on increasing polio vaccination rates in the state.
According to official data, 78 percent of New Yorkers have received at least three polio shots – the standard schedule for the injections – by the age of two.
Nassau has a vaccination rate that is slightly better than the state average at 79 percent.
Sullivan (62 percent vaccination coverage), Rockland (60 percent), and Orange (58 percent) are all among the parts of the state with the lowest vaccination rates.
All of these figures are well below the 95 percent rate deemed necessary to actually bring the virus under control in the event of an outbreak.
Though only one case has been confirmed so far — in an unvaccinated Rockland County man in his twenties — officials are concerned that a massive outbreak may go quietly undetected.
“There’s not one case of polio when you see a paralyzed case. The incidence of paralytic polio is less than one percent,” said Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert, health commissioner for Rockland County, on the BBC.
“Most cases are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, and those symptoms are often overlooked.
“So there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of cases that have happened so we can see a paralyzed case.”
The CDC says that for every 1,900 cases of polio in an unvaccinated person, only one person will show symptoms of paralysis (polio virus illustration)
Common symptoms of polio include high temperatures, extreme fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiff neck and muscle aches
The infected Rockland County man initially had a fever, neck stiffness, stomach problems and limb weakness.
He was hospitalized and a stool sample later confirmed he had a case of vaccine-derived polio.
This form of the virus comes as a result of the oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV). The vaccine delivers a person a live version of the virus. Although the body usually kills the virus and makes antibodies, in rare cases the recipient becomes infected.
The OPV is no longer used in the US but has been replaced by the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) which is given by injection.
Some developing countries still use the OPV because it is more easily accessible and activates antibodies faster than the IPV.
Officials have not yet determined how this man was exposed to vaccine-induced polio.
The CDC reports that a man from Rockland County, who was confirmed to be infected with polio, did not travel outside the U.S. during the seven- to 21-day period where symptoms usually appear. He did attend a local meeting eight days before the onset of symptoms
Paralytic polio often lasts seven to 21 days for an infected person to feel symptoms. The man hadn’t traveled outside the country during that time, but he did attend a large gathering of some sort eight days before the symptoms started, which officials speculate could be exposure.
“Based on past polio outbreaks, New Yorkers should know that for every observed case of paralytic polio, hundreds of other people could be infected,” Basset warned in August.
A report released by the CDC last month tested 260 samples from Rockland and Orange counties. Of that group, 13 samples from Rockland and eight from Orange were found to contain traces of the virus.
An April Orange County sample had an incomplete sequence of the virus. This means it may or may not be related to the Rockland County case.
In the time since the report’s conclusion on Aug. 10, New York City officials Sullivan and Nassau also confirmed the discovery of polio in wastewater monitoring.