Health officials in New York are “very, very concerned” about a recent outbreak of polio, the latest in a string of infectious diseases to rattle the state.
Polio was eradicated in the United States in 1979 thanks to high vaccination rates. But now the disease has been detected in wastewater samples in multiple counties, one man has been irreversibly paralysed, and a state of emergency has been declared.
The unidentified individual, who was unvaccinated, is thought to be one of hundreds of New Yorkers who have contracted the virus, as paralysis affects only one in every 200 people.
“We know this is the tip of the iceberg, there are probably hundreds and hundreds of cases,” said Dr Patricia Schnabel Ruppert, the health commissioner of Rockland county, where the man lives.
“One case of polio essentially is an outbreak – because one case of paralytic polio means you almost certainly have hundreds of other people who are infected,” added Dr Emily Lutterloh, director of epidemiology at the Wadsworth Centre, the lab which detected the case.
The polio vaccination rate in New York state is 79 per cent. But in Rockland county, which has a population of 330,000 people, it falls to just 61 per cent. Some zip codes in Rockland have “much lower rates,” Dr Schnabel Ruppert warned.
“There are areas that are quite dense. One zip code has a vaccination rate of 37.2 per cent. It’s very concerning,” she told the Telegraph last week.
The samples have led to an “all hands-on-deck effort,” Dr Schnabel Ruppert said, with the New York State department and the Centre for Disease Control moving in to increase surveillance.