New York has declared a state of emergency as sewage tests show the polio virus is spreading across the state.
The emergency declaration, issued Friday by Gov. Kathy Hochul, expands the network for administering polio vaccinations to include emergency medical services workers, midwives and pharmacists. New York officials said vaccination rates are too low in parts of the state — the current statewide average is about 79 percent.
“On polio, we simply cannot roll the dice,” said Mary Bassett, New York’s state health commissioner. “If you or your child are unvaccinated or not up-to-date on vaccinations, the risk of paralytic disease is real. I urge New Yorkers to accept no risk at all. For every single case of paralytic polio that is observed, there may be hundreds of other people are infected.”
Officials began monitoring wastewater in the state for polio, which is typically found in the feces of an infected person, to track whether the virus is spreading after an unvaccinated man in Rockland County, just north of New York City, contracted the virus in July – the first recorded case in the United States since 2013. He also had paralysis.
The man was infected by the virus that had been precipitated from a person who received the oral polio vaccine. The oral vaccine is safe, but contains small amounts of weakened live virus that can circulate and amplify if communities are undervaccinated.
In August, New York City officials said they had identified polio in the city’s sewage. On Friday, state health officials announced they had identified polio in 57 samples collected from sewage in neighboring counties between May and August. Fifty of them were genetically linked to the case of the Rockland resident.
Polio can cause mild or flu-like symptoms, but the disease can also be debilitating and life-threatening. It mainly affects infants and children under 5 years of age, but anyone unvaccinated can get it.
Polio was largely eradicated from the United States by vaccinations beginning in 1955. In 1979, the United States was declared polio-free.
The case from Rockland County has been genetically linked to samples collected from Britain and Israel, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Genetic sequencing suggests the virus linked to the New York case has been circulating for as long as a year, according to a recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention report, though not necessarily in the United States.
The state of emergency will remain in effect until October 9. The health authorities set a goal of getting 90 percent of residents vaccinated.
Agencies contributed to this story.