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Polio outbreak leads to state of emergency in New York

Image ID: 71451526 (L)
Poliomyelitis vaccine bottles. Image credit:
andreypopov / 123RF

New York Governor Kathy Hochul  declared a state of emergency on Friday over a growing polio outbreak, in an effort to better equip health care providers with tools to curb the spread of the sometimes disabling virus before it takes further hold in the state.

The order allows emergency service workers, midwives and pharmacists to administer the polio vaccine. The declaration also requires health care providers to send polio immunization data to New York health officials so that they can determine where in the state to target vaccination efforts.

“On polio, we simply cannot roll the dice,” Dr Mary T. Bassett, the state health commissioner, said in a statement on Friday. “Do not wait to vaccinate.”

The first polio case in nearly a decade was identified in July in New York State. Officials said an unvaccinated man in Rockland County was infected by virus that had been shed from someone who received the oral polio vaccine, which has not been administered in the United States since 2000. The oral vaccine is safe, but contains small amounts of weakened live virus that can circulate and strengthen if communities are under vaccinated.

No other cases have been identified by the state, but officials have been monitoring wastewater for polio — which is typically found in the faecal matter of an infected person — to track whether the virus is spreading.

In August, New York City officials said they had identified polio in the city’s wastewater. On Friday, state health officials announced that they had identified polio in 57 samples collected from wastewater in several downstate counties between May and August. The majority of the samples were collected in Rockland County, and 50 of them were genetically linked to the case of the Rockland resident.

Hochul’s declaration came as many New York students began their first week of school, and as some parents continue to worry about the spread not only of polio but also the monkeypox virus. However, the risk of a polio infection is low for most students in New York City, and attending school is also unlikely to expose students to monkeypox.

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