OCT 13, 2022 11:48 AM PDT

For the First Time Since 1979, Polio is Circulating in the United States

WRITTEN BY: Zoe Michaud

In light of a polio outbreak in Rockland County, New York, the United States has been added to the list of countries where polio is currently circulating. This marks the first documented case of polio spread within the United States since 1979. 

Public health officials were notified of the polio outbreak after being informed of a case of paralytic polio in an individual in Rockland County, New York, United States. This case occurred in an individual who had not been vaccinated against polio. 

Sequencing of wastewater specimens in Rockland County, New York also shows the presence of poliovirus. This indicates that the virus is spreading in the community beyond the individual identified with paralytic polio. 

Though the risk for most people remains low, being fully vaccinated against polio substantially reduces the risk of being infected by or spreading the virus. Polio vaccines have been available in the United States since 1955. 

Polio can result in symptoms that affect the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis (an infection of the covering of the spinal cord or brain) occurs in about 1–5 out of 100 people with poliovirus infection. Paralysis occurs in about 1 out of 200 people to 1 in 2000 people, depending on virus type. Paralysis as a result of polio can be lifelong. 

Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, chief of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, notes that “vaccination is the key. People need to make sure that they and their children are vaccinated and that’s the best and most assured way of protecting everybody against polio virus. 

The CDC, along with the New York State Department of Health, continues to investigate this outbreak by testing wastewater in Rockland County, New York to understand how quickly the virus is spreading. These public health agencies are also supporting vaccination efforts in at-risk communities. 

The New York State Department of Health has also issued an Executive Order declaring a State Disaster Emergency. This aids the state in expanding vaccination efforts and surveillance efforts.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett says that “on polio, we simply cannot roll the dice. If you or your child are unvaccinated or not up to date with vaccinations, the risk of paralytic disease is real.”

Sources: Global Polio Eradication Initiative, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New York State Department of Health

About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Zoe (she/her) is a science writer and a scientist working in genomics. She received her B.S. from the University of Connecticut with a focus in Evolutionary Biology. At Labroots, she focuses on writing scientific content related to clinical research and diagnostics.
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