ALBANY — Polio was discovered in wastewater samples from a Rockland County sewage treatment plant dating back to early June, state officials announced Monday.
The wastewater testing began last week, shortly after the county recorded the first case of the life-threatening virus in the US since 2013.
Going back over sewage samples already collected for COVID testing, state officials worked with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the international Global Polio Laboratory Network to determine that the virus found in Rockland is genetically linked to a strain recorded in Jerusalem, Israel.
“Further investigations – both genetic and epidemiological – are ongoing to determine possible spread of the virus and potential risk associated with these various isolates detected from different locations around the world,” the Global Polio Eradication Initiative said in a statement.
Polio is a highly contagious and potentially deadly virus that paralyzed or killed thousands of US children prior to widespread vaccination efforts in the later half of the 20th century.
Areas with lower vaccination rates can see the virus spread quickly since those infected can transmit it even if they aren’t sick.
Symptoms, which can be mild and flu-like, can take up to 30 days to appear.
[ What is polio, the disease that paralyzed tens of thousands of children before the 1960s? ]
The variant recorded in Rockland as well as Israel is linked to a vaccine used across much of the world, but no longer utilized in the US The oral vaccine uses weakened live viruses which prompts the immune system to create protective antibodies.
However, the weakened strains can occasionally spread among the unvaccinated and, often in areas with poor sanitation systems and the absence of clean drinking water, genetically revert to a form that can cause paralysis.
State officials note that Rockland County currently has a polio vaccination rate of 60.5% among two year-olds compared to the statewide average of 79.1%.
“Polio is a dangerous disease with potentially devastating consequences,” State Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said. “Given how quickly polio can spread, now is the time for every adult, parent, and guardian to get themselves and their children vaccinated as soon as possible.”
The vaccine used in the US does not contain any active viruses.
Rockland was the epicenter of a measles outbreak back in 2018 and 2019 that saw the now rare viral infection spread largely among children in the Orthodox Jewish communities whose parents refused to get them vaccinated.
That outbreak led New York lawmakers to put an end to vaccination exemptions based on religious beliefs.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism