Health & Fitness

Poliovirus found in Brooklyn and Queens sewage, New York health officials say

Polio virus particle, computer illustration.

Kateryna Kon | Science Photo Library | Getty Images

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has extended the state of emergency declared in response to the spread of poliovirus after sewage tested positive in Brooklyn and Queens.

Hochul said the state disaster emergency will remain in place at least through Nov. 8 to support statewide efforts to boost the vaccination rate against polio.

The New York State Department of Health, in a statement Tuesday, said the sewage sample that tested positive in Brooklyn and Queens is genetically linked to the virus that paralyzed an unvaccinated adult in Rockland County over the summer.

The unvaccinated adult from Rockland County is the only known case of paralysis in the U.S. so far, but state health officials have said there are likely hundreds of people spreading the virus without symptoms.

“These findings put an alarming exclamation point on what we have already observed: unvaccinated people are at a real and unnecessary risk,” New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett and New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan said in a joint statement.

A total of 70 sewage samples have tested positive for poliovirus in the New York City metropolitan area so far, according to New York state health officials. The virus has been detected in sewage from Kings, Nassau, Orange, Queens, Rockland, and Sullivan counties.

More than 28,000 doses of polio vaccine have been administered since July in Rockland, Orange, Sullivan and Nassau countries, according to state health officials.

Most people are vaccinated against polio as children and are not at risk, but New York has been struggling with low immunization rates in some communities for years.

In Rockland County, the vaccination rate for children under age two dropped from 67% in 2020 to 60% in 2022, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In some areas of Rockland, only 37% of kids in this age group are up to date on their vaccine.

State, national, and global health authorities believe the poliovirus found in New York originated from a country that still uses the oral polio vaccine. The oral vaccine uses a live virus that in rare circumstances can mutate and cause disease.

The U.S. stopped using the oral vaccine more than 20 years ago. It now administers an inactivated vaccine that contains killed virus that cannot mutate. The inactivated vaccine is highly effective at preventing disease but does not stop transmission of the virus.

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