Polio Detected in New York Wastewater

Health officials regularly test wastewater for evidence of waterborne diseases, toxins, germs, and chemicals to protect the health of residents. Screening for the COVID-19 virus in sewage has been used to track infection rates and serves as an early warning system to help guide vaccination efforts.  This week, the polio virus was detected in New York City’s wastewater, suggesting local transmission of the virus. 

As reported by Reuters, the NYC Health Department is urging unvaccinated New Yorkers to get their polio vaccine immediately.  This news comes just weeks after the first confirmed case of polio in 10 years was identified in Rockland County.   Polio can lead to irreversible paralysis and sometimes death; there is no known cure. 

A vaccine made widely available in 1955 can prevent polio and New York officials are opening vaccine clinics to ensure any unvaccinated residents can get their shot.  Polio infection can often be asymptomatic and can be transmitted before people know they have the virus.  Flu-like symptoms can take up to 30 days to appear, and although most of those affected are children under the age of three, the virus can strike at any age.   Older adults may remember friends and family afflicted by polio in their youth – between 1950 and 1953 there were about 119,000 cases of paralytic polio in the United States. 

The news of polio in American wastewater is a startling reminder of the importance of staying up-to-date on all recommended vaccinations.  Although polio has largely been eradicated in most of the world, the potentially disabling virus has been circulating in parts of the U.S., the U.K., and Israel.  According to the CBC, the Public Health Agency of Canada plans to start testing wastewater from a number of cities as soon as possible. 

In areas where vaccination rates are low due to vaccine hesitancy, a disruption in routine immunizations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, war, poverty, or social unrest, the risk for an outbreak continues to threaten the health of citizens.  Anyone unsure of their vaccination history should contact their physician’s office or their local health department to obtain a copy of their immunization records.   Follow this link to determine what vaccines are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for adults by age.