NY Extends Polio Emergency as New Data Puts ‘Alarming Exclamation Point’ on Threat

New York has extended its polio state of emergency, the latest health crisis to be met with an executive order from the governor’s office and an indication the threat is ongoing, officials said Tuesday.

Extending the order Gov. Kathy Hochul signed last month allows the state to maximize resources around vaccinations and other critical health measures as well as expedite distribution. While just one case of polio has been confirmed — the one involving a paralyzed, unvaccinated Rockland County patient first reported back in July — ongoing wastewater surveillance shows evidence that the once-dreaded childhood disease continues to spread in the New York metro area.

The latest tests detected poliovirus in sewage samples in Brooklyn and a nearby part of Queens County — and CDC testing confirmed those samples to be genetically linked to the case identified in Rockland County this past summer.

As of Oct. 7, a total of 70 samples of concern have been detected, and 63 of those (90%) are genetically linked to the Rockland County case, state health department data show. Most (37) of the 63 samples have been collected from Rockland County, while Orange, Sullivan and Nassau counties had 16, eight and one, respectively.

New York state health officials are working to sequence the seven other positive samples of concern, four of which were collected in the city in July, to determine whether they are vaccine-derived poliovirus or variants. both can cause severe illness, including paralysis, in humans, officials warn, though most adult New Yorkers have already been vaccinated.

“These findings put an alarming exclamation point on what we have already observed: unvaccinated people are at a real and unnecessary risk,” State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Basset, who declared the virus an “imminent threat to the public health” of New Yorkers on Sept. 28, said in a statement Tuesday.

“We have seen more New Yorkers getting vaccinated,” Basset added. “But these latest results are a searing reminder that there is no time to waste, especially for young children, who must be brought up to date with vaccinations right away. Paralysis changes life forever. Fortunately, the response is simple: get vaccinated against polio.”

Nearly 29,000 polio vaccine doses have been administered to9 children in Rockland, Orange, Sullivan and Nassau counties since July 21, state health officials say, a 14% increase compared with the same time period last year.

Health officials want the number up even higher.

Polio is a serious, life-threatening disease that affects the nervous system and can cause muscle weakness, paralysis or death. It is very contagious and can be spread by someone even if they aren’t sick or experiencing symptoms, which range from mild, flu-like symptoms to paralysis, permanent disability, and death. The inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) is 99 to 100% effective at preventing paralysis among people who get all recommended doses. Learn more here.

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