Make Sure Your Kids Are Vaccinated Against Polio
Eradicated in the U.S. long ago, the virus that can cause paralysis and death has re-emerged
Parents of kids who haven’t had the poliovirus vaccine—a surprisingly large number, we just learned—might consider history. Before the highly effective vaccine was developed in the 1950s, polio caused 15,000 cases of paralysis in the United States every year. Since then, we’ve gotten it totally under control. Until now.
No cases of polio have been reported to originate in the United States or spread here since 1979.
Then a few weeks ago, one young, healthy unvaccinated person was diagnosed with polio, which had caused leg paralysis, in Rockland County, New York. Officials think the disease has already begun to spread, though no other cases have yet been directly detected or diagnosed. Evidence of the disease has been found in wastewater from “two geographically different locations” in Orange County and Rockland County, the New York State Department of Health announced Aug. 4.
“Based on earlier polio outbreaks, New Yorkers should know that for every one case of paralytic polio observed, there may be hundreds of other people infected,” said the state’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Mary Bassett. “Coupled with the latest wastewater findings, the department is treating the single case of polio as just the tip of the iceberg of much greater potential spread.”
The poliovirus is extremely infectious. One of its insidious tricks is that most people do not get noticeable symptoms, so as happened with many Covid-19 cases, infected people often are not aware they are carrying and potentially spreading the disease. The disease causes flu-like symptoms in about a quarter of cases. In about 1% of cases it can lead to serious infections in the brain or spinal cord, and in a fraction of those, paralysis or death. There is no cure.
“Even children who seem to fully recover can develop new muscle pain, weakness, or paralysis as adults, 15 to 40 years later,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The virus spreads from person-to-person, even from individuals who carry the virus but…