Health officials in New York have discovered a case of polio in an adult – the first case in the country since 2013.
The good news is that most people have nothing to worry about. “Unless you’re not vaccinated,” says Marny Eulberg, a retired family physician and polio survivor.
The New York State Health Department said the unvaccinated Rockland County individual likely contracted the virus from someone outside the country who took an oral polio vaccine, including use has not been authorized in the United States since 2000.
Additional details about the patient have yet to be released, but Eulberg said this case would likely be attributed to the oral vaccine, which contains weakened live strains of the virus.
Over time, this weaker strain of polio can mutate and behave more like a natural version of the virus and spread to unvaccinated people. This is a case of vaccine-derived poliovirus. If the individual in New York had been vaccinated, Eulberg said, this would not have happened.
The majority of people in the United States have been vaccinated against polio – nearly 93% of children have it before the age of two, according to the CDC – because many children in the States need a vaccine against polio. polio to go to school. However, some people have religious exemptions, and a handful of states leave that decision up to parents, Eulberg notes.
“Polio is a viral infectious disease with a small percentage of cases attacking the nerves in the spinal cord which tell the body what to do and then cause paralysis,” she said.
Given the severity of the virus, Rockland County in New York is urging unvaccinated residents to get vaccinated and has announced clinics to make it easier for local residents.
Eulberg was infected with polio in 1950 when she was just 4 years old – five years before a vaccine was available in the United States. She was hospitalized for six months. She said her left leg was paralyzed and needed a leg brace and crutches to get around for part of her childhood.
By the time she was in high school, she no longer needed a brace or crutches as the surviving nerves compensated for those damaged by the virus. But 35 years later, his condition began to deteriorate.
About half of all polio survivors experience some level of paralysis later in life, she explained. Although there is no definitive answer as to why this happens, the main theory is that the surviving nerves wear out over time.
“It’s not polio coming back, we’re not contagious,” Eulberg said. “It’s just something that happens to up to 50% of people who have had polio in the past and it happens 20 to 50 years later.”
Polio has more or less been eradicated globally, but remains in poor countries struggling with vaccination rates and clean water. Most cases remain in Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Rotary International and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation renewed their partnership in January, pledging up to $450 million to help eradicate the polio virus worldwide.
Editor’s note: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the financial supporters of -.