County health group calls for resources for ‘scary’ threat of polio | New
ALBANY – The detection of poliovirus in sewage samples in two counties north of New York has sparked calls for new resources for county health departments to prepare for the emerging threat.
These agencies have been overwhelmed with work since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic 2½ years ago. More recently, they have pivoted as monkeypox cases have spiked in recent weeks, prompting the state to declare a state of emergency.
Adding to these concerns, said Sarah Ravenhall, executive director of the New York State Association of Health Officials, “the presence of polio is frightening.”
“At this time, our public health system does not have the resources to respond to a polio threat,” Ravenhall said Friday. “We need to inject more resources into the public health system.”
Public health officials are urging New Yorkers to make sure their polio vaccinations are up to date and to get their children vaccinated as soon as possible if they are not yet vaccinated.
The concerns were sparked by test results showing the presence of poliovirus in sewage samples taken at different times in Rockland and Orange counties.
An unvaccinated adult male from Rockland County tested positive for polio last month in Rockland County. Officials said the contagion was transmitted by a man who received the oral polio vaccine. The infected man is no longer contagious. The origin of the virus appears to have been a location outside of the United States. Use of the oral vaccine in the United States ended more than 20 years ago.
The Rockland County polio case and more recent findings of poliovirus in several sewage samples make polio a top concern for health officials at the state and county government levels.
“It is disheartening to see a resurgence of polio, a disease that was largely eradicated a long time ago,” said Orange County Health Commissioner Dr. Irina Gelman. “It is concerning that polio is circulating in our community, given the low rates of vaccination against this debilitating disease in some areas of our county.”
Health officials say the polio virus spreads easily from person to person. It can spread even when an infected person has no symptoms. In fact, it is estimated that 95% of people infected do not develop symptoms,
Ravenhall said the detection of poliovirus in New York underscores the need to “fundamentally rethink” ways to deal with contagion and “support proven strategies in measures that prevent the onset of disease.”
She noted that around 97% of healthcare spending is spent on treating people who have already fallen ill, suggesting a more concerted effort to focus on prevention.
While treating the disease is “crucially important,” Ravenhall said, “that balance has to shift if we are to get ahead of these threats.”
At the state Department of Health, officials are actively conducting sewage monitoring in partnership with local and state authorities, holding vaccination clinics, and “communicating openly with New Yorkers every step of the way and urging vaccinations.” “said Samantha Fuld, spokeswoman for the agency.
“The New York State Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center identified the polio case in a Rockland County resident and has since launched an urgent and robust response to aggressively assess the spread of the virus and protect New Yorkers — just as the Department has done for every emerging epidemic,” Fuld said.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a global drop in the number of children receiving routine vaccinations for various deadly diseases, according to a report released last month by the United Nations agency UNICEF. and the World Health Organization. Several factors were cited for the decline, including the focus on the pandemic, lockdowns and disinformation campaigns encouraging distrust of vaccines. The decline has been most pronounced in some of the world’s poorest countries.
In New York, Dr. Mary Bassett, the state’s health commissioner, said this week: “Coupled with the latest sewage findings, the department is treating the single polio case as the tip of the iceberg of much greater potential spread.