Polio declared a disaster in New York as virus spreads

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A Centers for Disease Control scientist extracts viral RNA from samples of poliovirus genetic material for molecular testing. (James Gathany/Centers For Disease Control)

(WAMC) – New York Governor Kathy Hochul is declaring a state disaster emergency to respond to the ongoing spread of poliovirus.

The Democrat said the declaration increases the availability of resources to deal with the disease, which has now been confirmed in wastewater samples in Nassau County in addition to previously turning up in Rockland, Orange and Sullivan counties and New York City.

The latest virus sample identified in August in Nassau County is genetically linked to this summer’s infection that left a Rockland County patient paralyzed — the first confirmed polio case in the U.S. since 2013.

Dr. Daniel Pastula is a neuro-infectious disease expert at the University of Colorado:

“If you are unvaccinated against polio, whether you’re a child or an adult, and poliovirus is circulating in the area, they’re at risk for developing paralytic polio,” Pastula said.

Hochul’s declaration expands the network of polio vaccine administrators who are certified to give shots, and requires healthcare providers to send polio immunization data to the state health department.

The state Association of County Health Officials applauded the governor’s move “to respond to the tremendous threat posed by the transmission of polio that has been detected in New York State.”

“For too many years now, there has been a great deal of false information perpetuated that has led far too many people to become misinformed and fearful of vaccines,” said Nancy McGraw, NYSACHO president and Sullivan County’s public health director. “Vaccines have safely saved millions of lives and prevented injury and death, and are one of the greatest public health achievements of the past 100 years. Unfortunately, because of misinformation spread on social media and by other means, many people have failed to adequately protect their health by getting themselves and their children vaccinated. We know that the best way to protect against contracting polio is to get vaccinated.”

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