A case of polio was detected in an unvaccinated adult in Rockland County, New York, for the first time since 2013.
As reported by the New York State Department of Health (DOH) on Thursday, the virus likely originated outside of the US as it was confirmed to be vaccine-derived — meaning it was derived from someone who received the oral vaccine. This vaccine, often administered in developing countries, contains a live form of the poliovirus, but is not administered in the US.
A person cannot be infected with polio from receiving the vaccine. However, in areas with low vaccination rates and poor sanitation, the live weakened virus can circulate for long periods, during which it can mutate and revert to a variant form — known as vaccine-derived poliovirus. The variant can then spread from human to human if they are not vaccinated.
Authorities are advising locals and the US population to stay on the lookout for new cases and get vaccinated against this nearly eradicated disease.
“This isn't normal. We don't want to see this,” Jennifer Nuzzo, a Brown University researcher, said in a statement. “If you're vaccinated, it's not something you need to worry about. But if you haven't gotten your kids vaccinated, it's really important that you make sure they're up-to-date.”
Poliomyelitis, also known as polio, is a viral infection that targets the nervous system through the spinal cord, causing paralysis, permanent disability, and even death.
Because it has no cure, oral (OPV) and injectable (IPV) vaccines are the most effective methods of prevention against the virus.
In the US, polio has been eliminated thanks to vaccination programs. Children are vaccinated before they start school and receive a booster shot between the ages of 4 and 6. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 92.6% of children are fully vaccinated before turning 2.
The last significant outbreak occurred in 1979 when 36 members of an Amish community contracted the virus — a population that had been associated with reluctance toward vaccines based on religious beliefs.
Similarly, in Rockland County, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, immunization rates tend to be lower than average. In 2019, the area saw an outbreak of measles, mumps, and rubella that infected 312 people after only 8% of people had been vaccinated.
Around the world, polio cases have dropped by 99% since 1988, plummeting from 350,000 to just six in 2021, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only countries where polio is considered endemic.
As the world grapples with conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic, immunization rates around the world, polio outbreaks are more likely to occur than ever. Last year, a case of polio was detected in Ukraine, and the UK recently saw traces of the virus in London’s sewage system.