New York, polio alert: “Maybe thousands of submerged cases”

What the local authorities say

There re-emergence of polio alarms New York state. According to local health authorities “there may be hundreds or even thousands of undiagnosed cases”, of ‘submerged’ infectionsPatricia Schnabel Ruppert, Rockland County Health Commissioner, where an unvaccinated man who suffered polio paralysis was reported last month, told the BBC. His infection appears genetically linked to traces of poliovirus found in the wastewater of London and Jerusalem. Episodes following which countries were asked to increase vaccination rates.

Ruppert does not hide concern. Aside from the fact that he “never thought he could see a case of polio in the United States” in his life, “if a case of polio paralysis is observed, it means that there is not a single infection“, underlines the expert, highlighting that “the incidence of the paralysis-producing form of poliomyelitis is less than 1%”, while “most cases are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, and these symptoms are often ignored”. So the idea is that there have been “hundreds, possibly even thousands, of polio cases to observe paralysis” associated with the infection.

Scientists, adds the commissioner, are working to search for “a link” between the New York case and the traces of poliovirus found in the sewers of London and Jerusalem, after the sequencing of the viral genome was carried out on samples from the three location and a correlation emerged.

It’s not just about New York“, Ruppert warns.” This is a very serious problem for our globalized world and we must all make sure that our populations are properly vaccinated. ” The American man who was paralyzed was in fact affected by a so-called ‘vaccine-derived’ form of polio, which occurs because some countries (not the US, nor the more developed nations) use a type of vaccine containing an attenuated virus. In rare cases this can change and be transmitted, in contexts of poor hygiene and also in other parts of the world, to unvaccinated people. Like the American patient who, in fact, was not immunized.

Although it is weaker than ‘wild’ polio, vaccine-derived polio can still cause severe symptoms. The virus can attack the nerves in the spine and the base of the brain, which can lead to paralysis. Usually in the legs, but if the respiratory muscles are affected, the infection can also be life-threatening.

Some areas of Rockland County have historically low vaccination rates, as low as 60%, the BBC recalls. Field teams have been sent to these areas to encourage polio immunization, especially of children.