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Following the diagnosis of a case of polio in New York last month, many health officials expressed concern about a potential resurgence of the disease. The reported case is “just the very, very tip of the iceberg,” a senior official from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told reporters, adding that hundreds more may have already been infected.
Rockland County was where the initial case was discovered. There are not many people in the county who have received their polio shots. People with the polio virus do not exhibit any symptoms, so the virus might already be spreading covertly in the community, claims Dr. Jose Romero, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases department.
“There are a number of individuals in the community that have been infected with poliovirus. They are shedding the virus. The spread is always a possibility because the spread is going to be silent,” said Dr. Romero.
Disease investigators from the CDC’s Atlanta headquarters made the trip to Rockland County to further their investigation. They were all concerned that the polio epidemic “could quickly spiral out of control and turn into a crisis.”
A person with polio is at risk for paralysis and death. Often, there is no cure for the paralysis. However, the battle to eradicate polio has already begun. In actuality, polio was declared eradicated in the US forty years ago. Many people are therefore immune to the virus.
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Even though this is the case, many people still have incomplete or no vaccinations. Even though the national vaccination rate in the US is 93%, the CDC team warns that Rockland County only has a rate of 60%, and this is where the first recurrence of the poliovirus was confirmed.
The CDC is currently developing potential interventions to stop the polio virus from spreading. Now, additional vaccinations are being given to both adults and children. This is what the health department of the nation is doing in London as well.
The problem with the current polio virus
The polio case in Rockland County is the first known instance of the virus in decades, per CDC data. Additionally, the virus that has been genetically linked to the strain of the Rockland County patient has made its way into both the county’s and Orange County’s sewage systems. Thankfully, health authorities have not found the virus outside of these places.
The poliovirus might not show any symptoms. In fact, according to the CDC, 3 out of every 4 infected people don’t exhibit overt symptoms of having the virus. Polio-positive people who do so might experience headache and sore throat. However, given that these are typical signs of other illnesses, some people may decide against getting checked at all.
The infection causes paralysis in one out of every 200 infected people. Since their respiratory systems are impaired, the majority of these people pass away.
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Citizens need to know the basics about polio
According to a vaccine educator, the CDC needs to find alternative ways to inform the public about polio, particularly those without internet access. The educator said, “We spoke about the need for messaging that resonates, and a press release is not going to cut it.”
Many people continue to refute the notion of vaccination, even as the necessity of immunizing and educating becomes clear. However, according to Dr. Mary Leahy, CEO of Bon Secours Charity Health System, there are strategies to convince people to get the vaccine for themselves and their kids.
“I turn to the grandparents and the great-grandparents who actually lived through the days of polio in the ’40s and ’50s. I grew up in Mexico. I saw this disease, the complications. I went to school with children that had braces.”
“I think most of the American public has never seen a case of polio. People have lost that fear, if you will, of the disease.”