An unvaccinated young adult in New York City recently contracted polio, the first US case in nearly a decade, health officials said Thursday.
Officials said the patient, who lives in Rockland County, had developed paralysis. The person developed symptoms a month ago and has not recently traveled outside the country, county health officials said.
It appears the patient had a vaccine-derived strain of the virus, possibly from someone who received a live vaccine — available in other countries, but not the United States — and spread it, officials said.
The person is no longer considered contagious, but investigators are trying to figure out how the infection happened and if other people were exposed to the virus. Most Americans are vaccinated against polio, but that should serve as a wake-up call for the unvaccinated, said Brown University pandemic researcher Jennifer Nuzzo.
” It is not normal. We don’t want to see that,” Nuzzo said. “If you’re vaccinated, it’s not something you need to worry about. But if you haven’t had your children vaccinated, it’s very important to make sure they’re up to date.
Health officials have scheduled vaccination clinics in New York on Friday and Monday and have encouraged anyone who has not been vaccinated to get vaccinated.
“We want injections in the arms of those who need them,” said Patricia Schnabel Ruppert, Rockland County Health Commissioner, at a press conference Thursday.
Polio was once one of the country’s most feared diseases, with annual outbreaks causing thousands of cases of paralysis. The disease mainly affects children.
Vaccines became available from 1955, and a national vaccination campaign reduced the annual number of cases in the United States to less than 100 in the 1960s and less than 10 in the 1970s, according to the Centers for Disease Control. and Prevention.
In 1979, poliomyelitis was declared eliminated in the United States, meaning there was no longer any systematic spread.
Rarely have travelers brought polio infections to the United States. The last such case was in 2013, when a 7-month-old child who had recently moved to the United States from India was diagnosed in San Antonio, Texas, according to federal health officials. This child also had the type of polio found in the live form of the vaccine used in other countries.
There are two types of polio vaccines. The United States and many other countries use injections made with an inactivated version of the virus. But some countries where polio has been a more recent threat use a weakened live virus that is given to children as drops in the mouth. In rare cases, the weakened virus can mutate into a form capable of triggering new outbreaks.
American children are still routinely vaccinated against poliomyelitis with the inactivated vaccine. Federal authorities recommend four doses: to be given at 2 months of age; 4 months; at 6 to 18 months; and at the age of 4 to 6 years. Some states only require three doses.
According to the CDC’s most recent childhood immunization data, about 93 percent of 2-year-olds had received at least three doses of polio vaccine.
Poliomyelitis is transmitted mainly from person to person or through contaminated water. It can infect a person’s spinal cord, causing paralysis and eventually permanent disability and death.
Rockland County, in the northern suburbs of New York, has been a center of vaccine resistance in recent years. A measles outbreak in 2018-2019 infected 312 people there.
Last month, British health officials warned parents to make sure children had been vaccinated because the polio virus had been found in sewage samples from London. No cases of paralysis were reported.