The Rockland County polio case has been found to be genetically linked to samples of the virus from greater Jerusalem and the United Kingdom, health officials said. It has also been linked to polio samples found in Rockland County wastewater dating back to June, the state health department announced on Monday.
The New York State Department of Health launched the wastewater surveillance effort to check for signs of the virus after the identification of a polio case in a Rockland County resident. The department worked with the Global Polio Laboratory Network, which includes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, to confirm that the virus found in Rockland was genetically linked to those collected in Jerusalem, Israel and London.
The department added that this does not, however, imply that the individual in the case identified in New York had traveled to either country.
In a statement, the state health department said the findings underscored the importance of getting vaccinated to protect all New Yorkers against the disease.
“Polio is a dangerous disease with potentially devastating consequences,” State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said. “In the United States, we are so fortunate to have available the crucial protection offered through polio vaccination, which has safeguarded our country and New Yorkers for over 60 years. 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.”
Denis Nash, a professor of epidemiology at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health, said the findings indicate that the virus has been in the community for some time.
“The whole picture suggests to me that there is potentially a lot of polio circulating in Rockland County right now and maybe beyond,” he said. “And the implications are that that people really need to take steps to get vaccinated as quickly as possible if they aren’t already.”
The department said unvaccinated New Yorkers who live, work, go to school in or visit Rockland County are at highest risk for the virus, adding that all New Yorkers currently unvaccinated, including infants and pregnant people, should get vaccinated right away. Rockland County currently has a polio vaccination rate of 60.5% among 2-year olds, compared to a statewide average of 79.8%, according to the NYSDOH.
Polio is a highly contagious and potentially deadly virus that ravaged the US in the 1940s and 1950s, but has become extremely rare, thanks to vaccination efforts. Symptoms can be mild and flu-like, and take up to 30 days to appear, during which time infected individuals can still spread the disease.
The CDC said a vaccine-derived strain caused by an oral version of the drug is still circulating even though naturally occurring strains have been eradicated globally. The rare strain was found in the UK earlier this summer — and was later found to be behind the Rockland case, and the first vaccine-derived case of polio in the US since 2013, state health officials said.
The current polio case presents a low risk to those who are already vaccinated against polio, according to officials. Those who are fully vaccinated against the virus have close to 100% protection.
Caroline Lewis contributed reporting.