Understandably, these events have raised many questions: Why does a case of polio worry officials? What does it mean to find poliovirus in sewage? Who should worry about getting the disease? If someone got vaccinated years ago, are they still protected now?
CNN: So far, there has only been one documented case of paralysis due to poliovirus in New York. Why would a case concern health officials?
CNN: What does it mean that poliovirus has been detected in sewage from five counties, including New York City?
Who: Finding poliovirus in wastewater means one of two things: that there are people actively infected with polio who are shedding the virus, or that the virus signal could be from people who recently received the oral polio vaccine (OPV). OPV is no longer given in the United States (since 2000, the version used in the US is inactivated polio vaccine (IPV), which is injected), but other countries they still use OPV, and it is possible that travelers from those places are shedding the virus from the vaccine.
In rare circumstances, weakened virus from people who have just received OPV could cause paralytic polio in unvaccinated people, which is one of the main reasons OPV is no longer used in the US.
CNN: How can people get polio?
CNN: Should New Yorkers worry about getting polio?
Who: Again, people who are vaccinated against polio are extremely well protected against paralytic polio and need not worry at this time. However, it should be noted that while IPV is very good at preventing the most serious potential effects of the disease, people who received the vaccine could still carry polio and spread it to others. Those at risk of serious outcomes are people who are unvaccinated and those who are not fully vaccinated, including young children under the age of 6 who have not yet completed their polio vaccination series.
CNN: How many polio shots should someone get?
Adults who have never been vaccinated against polio should receive three doses of IPV. The first should be given as soon as possible, the second at two months, and the third six to 12 months after the second.
CNN: If someone got the vaccine years ago, are they still protected? Who should get a polio booster now?
CNN: What if you’re not sure if you’ve been vaccinated? Let’s say you don’t remember getting the vaccine, and it’s been many years. Are there any blood tests I can take to check either way?
Who: You can check with your primary care doctor’s office or state health department to see if they have records of your shots. If not, and there is no other way to verify, for example by asking parents or other relatives or caregivers, you should talk to your health care provider about getting the full series of polio vaccines now. There is no blood test that can reliably detect whether you are fully vaccinated against polio.
CNN: What if you or your family members have not yet been vaccinated against poliovirus?
Who: People who have not yet received any doses or who are not fully vaccinated should make sure they get their full series of polio vaccines right away. This is particularly important if you live in or around Rockland County in New York, but really everyone should get up to date on their routine vaccinations.
It was a tragedy decades ago that so many children were permanently paralyzed and even died of polio. This should not happen again, since we have such effective vaccines that can prevent serious consequences of the disease.