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U.S. records first polio case in almost a decade

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New York health officials confirmed last Thursday that a case of polio was recently recorded in Rockland County, the first time the highly infectious virus has been reported in the U.S. since 2013.

The nearly eradicated disease, which can affect the nervous system and cause muscle weakness, is incredibly contagious and can be dangerous or even fatal for those not vaccinated.

Officials encouraged anyone not up on their shots to get them immediately.

“The polio vaccine is safe and effective, protecting against this potentially debilitating disease, and it has been part of the backbone of required, routine childhood immunisations recommended by health officials and public health agencies nationwide,” said State Health Department Commissioner, Dr. Mary Bassett.

Officials did not share personal details about the infected Rockland resident, but said that viral sequencing confirmed by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention found the strain likely originated from somewhere outside the U.S.

People infected with polio can still spread the virus even if they are not sick as symptoms can take up to 30 days to appear. Symptoms include fatigue, fever, headache, stiffness, muscle pain and vomiting.

Some polio cases can result in paralysis or death, officials warned.

“Many of you may be too young to remember polio, but when I was growing up, this disease struck fear in families, including my own,” said Rockland County Executive Ed Day.

“The fact that it is still around decades after the vaccine was created shows you just how relentless it is. Do the right thing for your child and the greater good of your community and have your child vaccinated now.”

The polio vaccine, first introduced in 1955, led to a national vaccination programme that dramatically reduced cases and eventually led to the virus being completely eliminated in the U.S. by 1979.

In 2000, the U.S. switched to an inactivated polio vaccine, while many other countries still use the original vaccine that includes a tiny amount of the live virus. The Rockland case shows signs of originating from a live vaccine administered somewhere outside the U.S.

Since the polio vaccine is still included on the CDC’s standard child immunisation schedule, those already immunised are considered to be at lower risk.

However, officials are encouraging those who are unvaccinated, pregnant or have not completed their polio vaccine series previously, to get vaccinated.

State and Rockland County officials said they would be hosting local vaccine clinics along with providers in the area.

“The Rockland County Department of Health is working with our local health care partners and community leaders to notify the public and make polio vaccination available,” said County Health Commissioner, Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert.

Rockland was the epicenter of a measles outbreak back in 2018 and 2019 that saw the now rare viral infection spread largely among children in the Orthodox Jewish communities whose parents refused to get them vaccinated.

That outbreak led New York lawmakers to put an end to vaccination exemptions based on religious beliefs.