Despite only one official polio case being found in the US, healthcare officials are concerned. Here's why.
Healthcare authorities in the US, Israel and UK are concerned about an outbreak of polio infections. Despite being nearly eradicated in most countries, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) detected the presence of the polio virus in New York from as early as April this year. The report from the CDC suggests that the version of the virus found must have been circulating somewhere in the world for at least a year.
The state said that a young man was paralysed after contracting polio or poliomyelitis. It was the first case of polio in the US in nearly a decade, with the last known polio case being recorded in 2013. The patient was not vaccinated against polio.
Despite only one official case being found, healthcare officials are concerned about the infection circulating in communities.
Polio: Symptoms & spread
The polio virus is highly contagious, mostly spreading through contact with the faeces of an infected person as well as droplets from sneezes and coughs. In 70 percent of cases, the disease causes no symptoms at all. In nearly 25 percent of cases, the patient suffers from mild symptoms like fever, fatigue, stomach pain and nausea. In less than 5 percent of cases, the virus travel to the nervous system of the infected individual, resulting in severe symptoms like paralysis. Less than 0.5 percent of cases of polio-induced paralysis are completely irreversible.
Though the disease is thought to mostly infect children under the age of five, the infection can spread to other individuals as well. With there being no cure or treatment for the infection or the symptoms, the only protection against the disease is the vaccines that provide life-long protection.
Vaccine only treatment
The vaccine is most commonly found in two forms, an inert polio virus that is injected underneath the skin and the oral polio vaccine which contains a weakened attenuated poliovirus. Though both vaccines are safe and effective, those immunised with the oral vaccine can still potentially shed the virus and spread it to others. In communities with low vaccination rates, this can potentially cause polio outbreaks.
As the US and the UK do not use the oral vaccine, the current outbreak has originated in a country where the oral vaccine is used. The polio virus is transmitted in the wild in only two countries — Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The rising anti-vaccine sentiment and COVID-19 disruption in vaccination programmes have meant that vaccination rates have fallen far below the 80 percent that is required to achieve herd immunity.
The case from New York happened in Rockland County, where only 60 percent of children under the age of two are fully vaccinated against the disease.