Wastewater testing indicates polio has been in Rockland and Orange counties early as June
New wastewater testing shows polio has been in both Rockland and Orange counties as early as June, a month before officials announced the first positive U.S. polio case in decades.
"We are amplifying our outreach efforts, not just with education and information, but with clinics," said Dr. Irina Gelman, the Orange County health commissioner.
Polio is generally passed through contact with human feces which makes wastewater testing so critical, according to Riverkeeper Water Quality Program Director Dan Shapley.
"We can track, in our wastewater systems, certain illnesses...and get a read on whether they are present in the community...before maybe an outbreak is detectable,” he said.
The most recent samples are linked to the Rockland County polio case but that doesn't mean this person is the source of the transmission, but it is evidence the virus is circulating locally.
Fully vaccinated people are almost fully protected from infection and nearly three-quarters of people who get the virus are asymptomatic.
The rest will usually have minor cold symptoms, but less than one in one hundred get life-threatening paralysis.
"Now is the time to speak with your medical provider and really get vaccinated as soon as possible,” said Dr. Gelman.
The statewide vaccination rate is almost 79%, while Orange and Rockland counties sit at or below 60%.
State Health Commissioner Mary T. Bassett expressed concern about the spread of polio following the confirmed case in Rockland and the wastewater findings.
"Based on earlier polio outbreaks, New Yorkers should know that for every one case of paralytic polio observed, there may be hundreds of other people infected," State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said in a release.
"Coupled with the latest wastewater findings, the Department is treating the single case of polio as just the tip of the iceberg of much greater potential spread. As we learn more, what we do know is clear: the danger of polio is present in New York today. We must meet this moment by ensuring that adults, including pregnant people, and young children by 2 months of age are up to date with their immunization – the safe protection against this debilitating virus that every New Yorker needs."
The Rockland County Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert also released a statement saying, "This unprecedented circulation of polio in our community from a devastating disease that was eradicated from the United States in 1979 must be stopped.”
"Any unvaccinated children and adults should receive a first polio immunization immediately. The Rockland County Department of Health is here to help residents receive vaccinations. Visit our webpage for more information."