Even though New York Governor Kathy Hochul recently declared polio a state emergency after samples of the virus were found in wastewater in New York City and four surrounding counties, public health experts say it’s not time to push the panic button.
“The risk to the majority of the general public is very low,” says Hannah Newman, director of infection prevention at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “Polio is something that we know how to prevent, the vaccine is part of our routine vaccination schedule, and our vaccine rates are high as a whole.”
The reason the virus is showing up in wastewater is likely due to dropping vaccination rates in select pockets of the state. The pandemic also caused many people to fall behind on important vaccinations.
Researchers first began testing wastewater after an unvaccinated person from Rockland County was diagnosed with polio in July.
What is polio?
Polio, or poliomyelitis, is a disabling and life-threatening disease caused by the poliovirus.
According to the CDC, the virus spreads from person to person and can infect a person’s spinal cord, causing paralysis.
Most people who get infected with poliovirus don’t have any visible symptoms.
According to the CDC, about 1 out of 4 people (or 25 out of 100) with poliovirus infection will have flu-like symptoms that can include: