Health officials said Thursday that an unvaccinated young adult from New York recently contracted polio, the first case in the United States in nearly a decade.
Officials said the patient, who lives in Rockland County, was paralyzed. County health officials said the person developed symptoms a month ago and has not recently traveled outside the country.
Officials said the patient appeared to have been infected with a strain of the virus derived from the vaccine, possibly from someone who obtained a live vaccine — available in other countries, but not in the United States — and spread it.
The person is no longer considered contagious, but investigators are trying to find out how the infection occurred and whether other people have been exposed to the virus. Most Americans are vaccinated against polio, said Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Brown University, but this should be a wake-up call for the unvaccinated.
“It’s not normal. We don’t want to see this,” Nozzo said. “If you’ve been vaccinated, you don’t have to worry about it. But if your kids haven’t been vaccinated, it’s really important that you make sure you keep up with developments.”
Health officials have scheduled vaccination clinics in New York for Friday and Monday, and encouraged anyone who has not been vaccinated to get vaccinated.
“We want shots in the arms of those who need them,” Rockland County Health Commissioner Patricia Schnabel-Robert said at a news conference Thursday.
Polio was once one of the country’s most terrifying diseases, with annual outbreaks causing thousands of cases of paralysis. The disease mostly affects children.
Vaccines became available beginning in 1955, and a national vaccination campaign reduced the annual number of cases in the United States to less than 100 in the 1960s and less than 10 in the 1970s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 1979, polio was declared eradicated in the United States, which means that there is no longer a routine spread.
Travelers rarely bring polio infection into the United States. The last such case was in 2013, when a 7-month-old baby who had recently moved to the United States from India was diagnosed in San Antonio, Texas, according to federal health officials. This child also had the type of polio found in the live form of the vaccine used in other countries.
There are two types of polio vaccines. The United States and many other countries are using shots made with a deactivated version of the virus. But some countries where polio has recently been a threat use live, attenuated virus that is given to children as drops in the mouth. In rare cases, a weakened virus can mutate into a form capable of causing new outbreaks.
US children are still routinely vaccinated against polio with the inactivated vaccine. Federal officials recommend four doses: given at two months of age; 4 months; at 6 to 18 months of age; And at the age of 4 to 6 years. Some states require only three doses.
According to the most recent childhood vaccination data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 93% of 2-year-olds have received at least three doses of the polio vaccine.
Polio is mostly spread from person to person or through contaminated water. It can infect a person’s spinal cord, causing paralysis and possibly permanent disability and death.
Rockland County, in the northern suburbs of New York City, has been the epicenter of vaccine resistance in recent years. The measles outbreak in 2018-2019 infected 312 people.
Last month, British health officials warned parents to ensure children were vaccinated because the polio virus was found in London sanitation samples. No cases of paralysis have been reported.