Polio Information

Important information

On July 21, 2022, RCDOH and NYSDOH alerted the public to a case of confirmed poliomyelitis in an UNVACCINATED, previously healthy, young adult, county resident who presented with leg paralysis.

While this is the only identified case so far, most people who get infected with poliovirus  will not have any visible symptoms. An infected person may spread the virus to others even if they do not have symptoms. The virus can also live in an infected person’s feces for many weeks and can contaminate food and water in unsanitary conditions.

The county is continuing to conduct surveillance activities to assess the risk to the community (i.e, determine if the virus is circulating).

There is negligible risk to those who are fully vaccinated. Those who are unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated are at risk of contracting and spreading polio, and RCDOH strongly urges seeking polio vaccination without delay.

The INACTIVATED POLIO VACCINE (IPV) is the only polio vaccine given in the US since 2000. It is safe and effective. There is no risk of getting or spreading polio with IPV.

Additional Resources

What is polio?

Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious viral disease. The virus is transmitted by person-to-person spread mainly through the fecal-oral route or, less frequently, contaminated water or food. It multiplies in the intestine, from where it can invade the nervous system and cause paralysis.

What are the symptoms of polio?

Most people who get infected with poliovirus will not have any visible symptoms.

A smaller proportion of people with poliovirus infection will develop serious symptoms that affect the brain and spinal cord:
  • Paresthesia (feeling of pins and needles in the legs)
  • Meningitis (infection of the covering of the spinal cord and/or brain)
  • Paralysis (can't move parts of the body) or weakness in the arms, legs, or both, occurs in about 1 out of 200 people with poliovirus infection

Paralysis is the most severe symptom associated with polio, because it can lead to permanent disability and death. Between 2 and 10 out of 100 people who have paralysis from poliovirus infection die, because the virus affects the muscles that help them breathe.

How did the patient get polio? What does it mean when it is called "vaccine-derived"?

The individual suffered from poliomyelitis because of two events – they were 1) Unvaccinated and 2) they got exposed to a certain polio strain.

This strain, in its origin, is the same strain used in oral polio vaccines. Prior to being used as a vaccine, the virus is modified and weakened, such that it cannot cause disease but would induce immunity. This is administered only outside of the US.

As a person gets the OPV, it is shed, and can rarely remain in circulation, which happens if overall immunization rates remain low. As time goes by, if there is ongoing circulation and replication of this virus, it acquires mutations, and in time, it can regain the ability to cause disease, i.e. it "reverted" to a virulent strain. When it reaches an unimmunized person, it can make them sick.

Since OPV is not given in the US, the virus detected in our county case, likely originated from a traveler from abroad where OPV was administered, and there was a transmission chain reaching the patient.

To be very clear, the individual in this case did NOT get it from a vaccine, and in fact, had they been vaccinated, they would not have gotten poliomyelitis.

Is the polio virus circulating in the county?

Wastewater samples taken from Rockland County Sewer District #1 from June 2022 had detectable polio virus. This may have been from the singular case so the significance of this is unknown. It was NOT detected in the Orangetown Sewer District area during the same time period.

At this time, the county is continuing to conduct surveillance activities to determine if the virus is circulating. If it continues to be detected in the Rockland County Sewer District #1 in the upcoming months, or if it is detected in other sewer districts, or if another case is diagnosed, it may be said to be circulating. This determination might take some time, since samples need to be tested multiple times over months.

How can we stop the virus from circulating?

Circulation only happens or continues IF OVERALL VACCINATION RATES REMAIN LOW. If the community has sufficient immunized individuals, the polio virus cannot circulate. This is how the poliovirus was eradicated in our country.

As such, community members should seek to get immunized immediately if they are not yet vaccinated. This step will protect both the person getting vaccinated and our community.

Who should get vaccinated?

Those who are unvaccinated, incompletely vaccinated, or unsure, should arrange for vaccination immediately.