public health

And Now … Polio?

Photo: Tobias Arhelger/EyeEm/Getty Images

The latest variant of the coronavirus is raging throughout the country, public-health agencies are fumbling the early response to an outbreak of monkeypox, and now — for the first time in close to a decade — a case of polio has been confirmed in the United States.

On Thursday, public-health officials in New York reported a case of the infectious disease in an unvaccinated adult in Rockland County, north of New York City. According to the officials, the person appears to have a vaccine-derived strain of the virus, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines as a strain of the weakened poliovirus “that was initially included in oral polio vaccine and that has changed over time and behaves more like the wild or naturally occurring virus.” This suggests that the patient was infected by a person who received an oral polio vaccine abroad; these vaccines were retired in the U.S. in 2000.

The last case of polio in the United States was in 2013, when an infant whose family moved from India to Texas was diagnosed in San Antonio. The last known naturally occurring case of the poliovirus in the country was in 1979, the year it was declared eliminated by the CDC. Before vaccines became available in 1955, the disease infected tens of thousands of American children each year, resulting in thousands of paralyzations; in 1952 alone, 3,000 American children died from the virus. The wild-type polio strain — which spreads mostly from person to person and through contaminated water and predominantly affects children — remains endemic only in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Vaccine-derived strains are still present in several African countries.

New York State’s health commissioner, Mary T. Bassett, said on Thursday that people who are vaccinated against polio are not at risk. “Based on what we know about this case, and polio in general, the Department of Health strongly recommends that unvaccinated individuals get vaccinated or boosted with the FDA-approved IPV polio vaccine as soon as possible,” she added. Rockland County is setting up vaccine clinics on Friday and Monday to aid in the effort.

And Now … Polio?