LOS ANGELES, Aug. 13 (Xinhua) -- The New York State and New York City (NYC) departments of health said Friday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have identified polioviruses from sewage samples in the largest city of the United States, suggesting likely local circulation of the virus.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said in a press release that the finding "is alarming, but not surprising," since a case of paralytic polio was reported on July 21 in neighboring Rockland County and poliovirus was detected in wastewater samples collected in May, June and July from Rockland and Orange Counties.
Politico reported that local health officials had been testing wastewater to track the spread of COVID-19. The wastewater surveillance checked samples from June and July for polio and found six positive samples.
Assessing the level of community spread based on the collected samples can be difficult, Denis Nash, a professor of epidemiology at CUNY's Institute for Implementation Science in Population Health, told Politico, adding it was unclear how many facilities those samples came from, or what concentration of the poliovirus was detected in each.
Polio, or poliomyelitis, a disabling and life-threatening disease caused by the poliovirus, spreads from person to person and can infect a person's spinal cord, causing paralysis.
The CDC's data showed that one in 25 infected people can get viral meningitis and about one in 200 will become paralyzed. While there is no cure for polio, it is preventable by vaccine.
Health officials on Friday urged local residents to get vaccinated against polio, noting the risk to New Yorkers was real but the defense through safe and effective immunization was simple and effective.
"With polio circulating in our communities there is simply nothing more essential than vaccinating our children to protect them from this virus, and if you're an unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated adult, please choose now to get the vaccine. Polio is entirely preventable and its reappearance should be a call to action for all of us," New York City's Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan said in the press release.
Mayor Eric Adams also told local PIX11 news channel that New Yorkers should not take the illness lightly.
"We thought that this was behind us many years ago, and polio is a serious illness that we have to take seriously," he said, adding that the solution to the challenging problem is vaccination.
Polio was once one of the most feared diseases in the United States in the early 1950s, when polio vaccines were unavailable and polio outbreaks caused more than 15,000 cases of paralysis each year.
Following the introduction of vaccines -- trivalent inactivated poliovirus vaccine in 1955 and trivalent oral poliovirus vaccine in 1963, the number of polio cases fell rapidly to less than 100 in the 1960s and fewer than 10 in the 1970s. The last case of polio in the United States before the one in Rockland County was in 2013.
However, the vaccine coverage for routinely recommended vaccines has fallen among children in New York City since 2019, putting residents at risk and devastating complications of vaccine preventable diseases.
Friday's detection underscored the urgency of every adult, including pregnant New Yorkers, and children to stay up to date with the polio immunization schedule, particularly those in the greater New York metropolitan area, the health officials said.
"Only 86.2 percent of NYC children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years old have received 3 doses of the polio vaccine -- nearly 14 percent remain not fully protected. Of particular concern are neighborhoods where coverage of children aged six-months to five-years-old with three doses of polio vaccine is less than 70 percent, putting these children at risk of contracting polio," the press release read.
As of August 1, it noted, Rockland County and Orange County had a polio vaccination rate of 60.34 percent and 58.68 percent respectively, compared to the statewide average of 78.96 percent, among children who have received three polio immunizations before their second birthday.