DENVER (KDVR) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health officials are keeping a close eye on the potential spread of polio in the U.S. after the first confirmed case in nearly a decade.
An unvaccinated man contracted the virus in New York, leaving questions for concern especially as children head back to the classroom. There is no cure for the virus, but it is preventable through vaccination and Colorado health officials are urging those who aren’t vaccinated to get the shots.
Polio has crippled communities, mostly through contaminated water, and peaked in the U.S. in 1952. It caused paralysis and death in severe cases.
“This would spread through communities and parents would be terrified,” explained Dr. Daniel Pastula, neuro-infections disease expert at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. “Their children would become paralyzed sometimes just by swimming in the summer. It would affect rich and poor, no matter your background. Matter of fact, one of our presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt, contracted polio.”
However, a medical breakthrough in 1955: A vaccine was created, significantly dropping cases in the U.S. According to a data chart from the CDC, there were roughly 15,000 cases in the 1950s, and in the 1970s, that number dropped to just 10 cases. But now in 2022, could the virus reemerge?
‘Poliovirus is circulating’ in New York City, wastewater shows
“Poliovirus is not eradicated and can certainly pop up under the right conditions,” Pastula said.
And it has. He said the U.S hasn’t had a confirmed polio case since 2013, but that changed late last month. An unvaccinated man from Rockland County, New York contracted polio, but Pastula said there is a bigger concern.
“The concern is that they are now finding poliovirus in the wastewater of New York City, which means that poliovirus is circulating,” Pastula said.
A lesson learned from COVID-19 is that testing wastewater can be very effective in tracing a virus. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said it’s working with the CDC to test state wastewater for polio and monkeypox.
Pastula said despite the confirmed case, polio is still rare to contract but said not everyone displays symptoms, so outside of hand washing and clean water, the best way to protect is through vaccination.
“We have a great childhood vaccine that prevents paralytic polio,” Pastula said. “It just shows the importance of having really robust healthcare and a robust public healthcare system.”
Pastula said that like COVID-19, the vaccine doesn’t prevent contraction, but it does prevent severe symptoms like paralysis and death. For kids heading to school, the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) is recommended by the CDC and is required in Colorado to enter childcare and K-12 schools.
“All these emerging and reemerging infections continue to be threats and if we let our guard down, they can rear their ugly heads again,” Pastula warned.
He added that if you’re unsure about the vaccine, call your doctor and ask questions until you’re comfortable.