Rockland County and New York State health officials reported Thursday that a resident of Rockland County, New York, who was exposed to an individual who received the oral polio vaccine, developed a neurological disease and is now paralyzed.
The case raises the issue of polio vaccinations – and what Americans should know to protect their health.
“Based on what we know about this condition and polio in general, the Department of Health strongly recommends that unvaccinated individuals be vaccinated or boosted with FDA-approved IPV. [inactivated] polio vaccine as soon as possible,” state health commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said in a statement from the New York State Department of Health provided to Fox News Digital.
Health officials said Thursday that the oral vaccine — which contains live strands of the polio virus — is no longer used in the United States.
However, it is still used in many countries, including those in Eastern Europe.
The patient started experiencing symptoms about a month ago. State and county health officials have begun investigating and tracing contacts.
They could not confirm where the person who received the oral polio vaccine came from or where the sick person met this person. (The patient’s identity has not been revealed.)
The New York State Department of Health’s Public Health Laboratory has detected “type 2 relapsing poliovirus,” according to a press release.
“This is an indication of a chain of transmission from an individual who received the oral polio vaccine (OPV), which is no longer authorized or given in the United States.”
The statement also said: “This indicates that the virus may have originated in a location outside the United States where OPV is given, since reverse strains cannot emanate from inactivated vaccines.”
The statement noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also confirmed these findings.
Officials said during the conference that the United States stopped using the oral polio vaccine (OPV) in 2000 — and instead uses the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV), which does not contain the live virus.
Rockland County Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Robert said during this week’s press conference that the inactivated polio vaccine “does not cause polio.”
She said that the IPV used in the United States is disabled and therefore will not change or change.
“So there is no risk of transmission to others,” she said.
What is polio disease?
Polio is a viral disease of the nervous system. It can cause muscle weakness and in some cases paralysis and death, according to health experts.
Doctors explained to Fox Digital News that the polio virus is usually transmitted when the contaminated stool of an infected person enters the body through the mouth, usually from hands that contain feces.
It can also occur via the respiratory tract and from mouth to mouth via saliva.
Rockland County experts explained during the press conference that polio is highly contagious.
Anyone can shed the virus—and thus infect others—even when they don’t seem sick.
An individual can begin to show symptoms for up to 30 days after that. These symptoms can range from mild, flu-like symptoms — including vomiting, fever, headache, and muscle stiffness — to more severe symptoms like muscle weakness and even paralysis, according to health experts.
During the conference, Robert explained that children in the United States usually receive the inactivated polio vaccine at 2 months – then a second dose at 4 months and a third dose between 6 months to 18 months.
They then receive a booster dose between 4 and 6 years of age. A vaccination is required before going to school.
Dr. Aaron Glatt, MD, MACP, is chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau in Long Island, New York.
Glatt – who is also the chief of medicine at Mount Sinai – is not associated with the case in Rockland County, but he spoke with Fox Digital News about live vaccines such as the oral vaccine and the possibility of contracting polio from someone who was infected given the live vaccine.
“A person who is not vaccinated or who is immunocompromised is likely to be able to contract polio in this case and should avoid being around someone who has recently had OPV,” he said.
“Theoretically, the polio virus can be cleared for up to two months after receiving the oral vaccine.”
Glatt explained that in the United States, health care professionals prefer the inactivated polio vaccine so that children have immunity if they are exposed to polio without the possibility of transmitting the virus to others.
Dr. Jennifer L. Leiter, MD, an infectious disease specialist at NYU Langone in New York City, told Fox Digital News that the oral vaccine is still in use, seen as an important tool for controlling polio worldwide because it’s easy. Low cost and stimulates mucosal immunity.
The hospital epidemiologist was not privy to the details of the Rockland County case, but he said the oral vaccine could pass to others.
In an email to Fox Digital News, Lighter said, “Rarely (about 1 case in a million), OPV can cause paralysis in immunocompromised children. For an extremely rare effect on immunocompromised children, the United States has stopped using Oral polio vaccine”.
Leiter cautioned that those with compromised immunity should talk to their doctor about vaccinations. The infectious disease expert said that although OPV is not offered in the United States, some other vaccines such as the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine or the chickenpox vaccine are live attenuated vaccines.
Lighter said immunocompromised individuals should discuss what measures they should take in the event they need to encounter a child or individual with any type of live vaccine.
Light emphasized the importance of polio vaccination.
“Immunization against polio is one of humanity’s greatest achievements,” she said. “In the United States before the vaccine, there were about 50,000 cases of paralytic polio and 3,000 deaths in the United States each year from polio.”
Health experts Fox Digital News spoke to said that polio was nearly eradicated thanks to a vaccination developed in 1955.
Nearly all children — 99 out of 100 — who get all recommended doses of the polio vaccine will be protected from disease, according to the CDC.
The United States has been polio-free since 1979, thanks to widespread use of the polio vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on its website. The CDC also said the best way to prevent the disease is to maintain a high population immunity to polio through vaccination.
Unvaccinated people should talk to their doctors
The New York State Department of Health and the Rockland County Health Department have advised medical practitioners and health care providers to monitor for additional cases.
Officials said those who had already been vaccinated were considered to be at lower risk.
However, unvaccinated people – including pregnant women, those who have not previously completed the polio vaccine series or members of the community who are concerned about possible exposure – should consult their doctor about receiving the vaccination.
Health officials said this week that they are concerned that there may be a hesitation in vaccines due to the COVID pandemic.
State and county officials are urging residents to get the polio vaccine.
“Vaccines have been protecting our health from both old and new viruses for decades,” New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan said in a news release.
“The truth is, the urgent need for safe and effective vaccines has always been here, and we need New Yorkers to protect themselves from viruses that are just as preventable as polio.”
Temporary polio vaccination clinics have been set up last week and for the week ahead.