October 7, 2022

What a waste. On Thursday, announced the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH). that they had found polio virus in sewage samples from two counties, Orange County and Rockland County, in June and July. This announcement about polio came two weeks after the NYSDOH had announced on July 21 that an unvaccinated adult in Rockland County had been infected with the polio virus and had become paralyzed as a result. If you’re wondering, “hmm, polio, I don’t get it,” that’s because the U.S. was declared polio-free in 1979. That declaration came after years of public health efforts to vaccinate the U.S. population against this dangerous and potentially deadly virus. However, such a resurgence of the polio virus in New York raises more concerns that continued anti-vaccination campaigns could set our country back many decades and destroy all the hard work that had rid the US of polio in the first place.

This Rockland County case was the first confirmed case of polio in New York state since 1990 and the first confirmed case in the entire US since 2013. These previous cases were travelers who were infected abroad. Finding the virus in sewage at multiple locations in two different counties in upstate New York over a two-month period makes this a worse situation in more ways than one. It indicates that People they’ve been spewing the virus for a while with an emphasis on the word “people” as in more than one person. It is rather unlikely that a person infected with the polio virus would have toileted in New York state, running around using different random toilets in the two counties. According to the NYSDOH statement, finding the virus now in three sewage samples from Rockland County and four samples from Orange County provides “more evidence of local – not international – transmission of a polio virus that can cause paralysis and possible spread to community”. In other words, the virus could spread again in the US. Oh, joy.

And here’s another thing that might make you fall off your stool: there might already be hundreds of people infected with the virus. Yes, as you can see in the following tweet, New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett warned: “Based on previous polio outbreaks, New Yorkers should be aware that for every one case of paralytic polio seen, there may be hundreds of others infected”:

This one-in-a-hundred estimate comes from the observation that about 72 out of a hundred people infected with the virus will end up with no visible symptoms. according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And about 25 percent will have only two to five days of flu-like symptoms, including fever, sore throat, fatigue, nausea, headache, and stomach pain. You can imagine that most people who have such flu-like symptoms wouldn’t automatically say, “OMG, I might have polio,” and go see a doctor to get a diagnosis.

Have you heard the phrase “silent but deadly” when it comes to other gastrointestinal (GI) issues? Well, this is a virus that can inhabit your gastrointestinal tract, spread silently to different people, and be fatal for some. Since the virus can be shed in your feces, it spreads primarily through the fecal-oral route, which is a fancy way of saying word of mouth. If you claim you don’t normally put poop in your mouth, you’d be wrong, wrong as a bedroom gong. People are often very bad about washing their hands after defecating in the toilet. So when people still have stool on their hands for the things they touch, there is poop.

As you can see in the tweet above, Bassett went on to state, “Coupled with the latest sewage findings, the Department is treating the single case of polio as the tip of the iceberg of a much larger potential spread. As we learn more, what we know is clear: the risk of polio is present in New York today.” Just what you needed with the Covid-19 pandemic and the outbreak of monkey pox, another infectious disease to worry about now.

With the polio virus, the biggest concern, of course, is the one in a hundred or so people who end up with very serious problems with the brain or spinal cord, or both, such as abnormal sensations, meningitis, or paralysis, which is weakness or inability to move the arms, legs or other parts of the body. Such problems can be life-threatening, especially when the paralysis affects the muscles that help you move air in and out of your lungs. After all, breathing like this is very important unless you happen to be a ficus plant.

Before you start loading up on supplements, ivermectin, or any fake cure you think will help against polio, keep in mind that there is no cure for polio. The best protection against polio is to get the inactivated poliovirus (IPV) vaccine, which can provide about 99% protection if you’ve received all four recommended doses. In theory, if you are or were a child in the US, you should already have been vaccinated against polio, because it is one of the required vaccinations for many school-aged children. However, as of August 1, 2022, the polio vaccination rate was only 60.34 percent in Rockland County and only 58.68 percent in Orange County, based on New York State records. Both were significantly lower than the national average of 78.96%. Gee, are you wondering why the case of paralytic polio occurred in Rockland County and the polio virus was found in both Rockland and Orange counties?

Bassett urged everyone who has not been vaccinated against polio to do so:

The NYSDOH announcement included the following statement from Orange County Health Commissioner Irina Gelman MPH DPM, PhD as well: “It is concerning that polio, a disease that has been largely eradicated through vaccination, is now circulating in our community, especially given of the low vaccination rates for this debilitating disease in some areas of our prefecture. I urge all unvaccinated Orange County residents to get vaccinated as soon as medically possible.”

Relatively so. Making the US polio-free in 1979 was a major public health achievement. As described by the CDC, in the late 1940s, each year, polio left an average of more than 35,000 people with disabilities in the U.S., many of them children, and parents afraid to let their children go outside, especially in the summer when the virus’s activity was higher. The development and introduction of oral polio vaccine (OPV) and IPV in the 1950s and 1960s changed all that. That’s why people were able to say this: did you hear the joke about polio? It used to be killer, but no one understands that anymore. Well, now the funny thing is that people not getting the polio vaccine threatens to reverse all the progress that has been made. What a waste.

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