First polio case in nearly a decade is discovered in upstate New York

A case of polio has been identified in an unvaccinated adult male in Rockland County, officials said.

The New York State Department of Health and its Rockland County counterpart confirmed that the infection was transmitted by someone who had received the oral polio vaccine, which has not been given in the United States since 2000. Officials said in a press release that the virus may have originated outside of the United States, where the oral vaccine is still administered.

“I want to emphasize that this person is no longer contagious,” Rockland County executive Ed Day said in a news conference Thursday afternoon. “Our efforts are now focused on two issues: vaccination and finding out if anyone else has the disease.”

Those who are unvaccinated or have not completed their vaccination series should get vaccinated, officials said. The current polio case poses a very low risk for those who have already been vaccinated against polio: those who have received all three vaccinations have almost 100 percent protection.

The person’s symptoms started about a month ago, Dr. Rockland County Health Commissioner Patricia Schnabel Ruppert at the press conference. The patient had “weakness and paralysis,” she said, and the department was notified of the confirmed case on Monday.

“We are now interviewing this individual’s family and close contacts to assess the risk to the community,” said Dr. Ruppert. She did not share any additional information about the patient’s current health status or prognosis.

Although health officials did not reveal the patient’s gender, local elected officials said he was a man of the Orthodox Jewish community. In 2018 and 2019, Rockland County experienced a measles outbreak that was focused on ultra-Orthodox Jews, whose vaccination rates tended to be lower than those of the general population. During this outbreak, more than 150 people contracted the measles.

The last case of polio in the United States was in 2013 in someone who imported the disease from abroad. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there hasn’t been a case originating in the United States since 1979.

The disease was one of the most feared in the country until the 1950s when the first vaccine was developed.

According to state data, 60 percent of 2-year-olds in Rockland County received all three doses of the polio vaccine — a significantly lower rate than the 80 percent rate in the rest of the state except for New York City.

In order to achieve herd immunity against polio, the target vaccination rate according to the World Health Organization is 80 percent.

According to some studies, disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have reduced vaccination rates for routine childhood vaccinations around the world and in the United States. Misinformation and distrust surrounding Covid vaccines has also impacted childhood vaccination rates as more parents have voiced their fears about long-established vaccines.

dr Amesh A. Adalja, senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said vaccine hesitancy could give vaccine-derived polio strains “an opportunity to do harm” in a community teeming with unvaccinated people.

Polio is highly contagious, the health department said in a press release. People can spread the disease even if they don’t have symptoms, which can include fatigue, fever, headache, muscle pain, and vomiting. In rare cases, polio cases can lead to paralysis or death.

The oral vaccine is safe and effective and is still given in countries where vaccine access is more limited. However, people who receive the oral vaccine, which contains a weakened version of the virus, can shed the virus.

The shedding feature was initially seen as a benefit, said Dr. Adalia.

“It mimics a natural infection, and people shed the virus, the vaccine virus, and that spreads to other people, and then they get immunized that way,” he said. In very rare cases, the virus in the vaccine can mutate as it travels from person to person, causing paralysis in someone who isn’t vaccinated, he said.

The United States uses an injected polio vaccine that contains inactivated virus instead of live virus.

Jesse McKinley contributed reporting.

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