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US reports first poliovirus case in nine years

InternationalUS reports first poliovirus case in nine years

By Khaila Gentle

ALBANY, New York, Thurs. July 21, 2022

The New York State Department of Health announced on Thursday that a patient in Rockland County, New York, had contracted a case of vaccine-derived polio—the first detected case of the virus in the United States in almost a decade.

According to a release from the Department of Health, testing revealed that the patient had contracted the polio Sabin type 2 virus. This was confirmed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This is indicative of a transmission chain from an individual who received the oral polio vaccine (OPV), which is no longer authorized or administered in the U.S., where only the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) has been given since 2000,” the release said.

According to Rockland County Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert, the patient—an unvaccinated young adult—had begun to exhibit symptoms including weakness and paralysis over a month ago.

Health officials in the State of New York have since advised medical practitioners to be vigilant for additional cases.

There are two types of vaccines that provide immunity against the poliovirus. One is administered via injection and contains an inactivated form of the virus. The oral polio vaccine, on the other hand, contains a live but weakened form of the virus, which can, in rare cases, infect others. According to CNN Health, this occurs when that weakened strain of the virus circulates in under-immunized populations, typically those with poor sanitary conditions, and undergoes mutations that allow it to revert to a form which can cause paralysis.

The U.S discontinued the use of the oral vaccine in 2000, which led the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) to conclude that the identified patient had been infected by someone who had received the oral vaccine outside of the country.

Poliomyelitis, more commonly known as polio, is a viral disease that can affect the nervous system and cause muscle weakness. The virus is spread via person-to-person contact.

The polio vaccine is a part of the CDC’s required immunization schedule for all school-aged children. In its release, the NYSDOH noted that those already vaccinated are at lower risk of contracting the virus than those who are not.

“Based on what we know about this case, and polio in general, the Department of Health strongly recommends that unvaccinated individuals get vaccinated or boosted with the FDA-approved IPV polio vaccine as soon as possible,” said State Health Commissioner, Dr. Mary T. Bassett.

The CDC states that about 1 in every 4 persons infected with the virus develop flu-like symptoms such as fever, tiredness, nausea, headache, and vomiting. Additionally, 1 in 200 develop more severe symptoms such as numbness in the legs, an infection in the brain or spinal cord, and paralysis. There is no cure for the disease, and any paralysis caused by it is permanent. While symptoms can take up to a month to appear, even an asymptomatic individual can spread the virus.

Polio was eradicated in Belize in 1981. Shortly after, in 1994, the Americas were declared polio-free by the World Health Organization. This was achieved in no small part due to widespread vaccination campaigns.

According to the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Belize has managed to maintain continuous anti-polio vaccination coverage of over 95%, except for the past two years, during which coverage has decreased to 83.4% due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ministry advises the public to review the immunization status of children and, if not fully vaccinated, to visit a local health facility or mobile clinic for vaccination.

“Detection and reporting of cases of any acute flaccid paralysis in children under 15 years of age to the health authorities are of the utmost importance for early investigation and detection of cases,” said the ministry.

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