Polio Case in Rockland County – Nation’s First in Nearly a Decade

By Matis Glenn


A Rockland County resident has tested positive for polio – the nation’s first case in nearly a decade of a once prevalent and dreaded disease.

Once endemic and spread mostly among children under five, polio was largely eradicated through a vaccine developed in the 1950s.

The last time a US resident contracted polio was in 2013 according to the CDC, when a child in a community with low vaccination rates caught it from another child who had been vaccinated with a drug containing an active, but weakened polio virus; in rare cases, the weakened version can mutate and become transmissible. This type of polio is called “revertant.”

All kinds of polio are incurable, but treatable.

Since 2000, only inactive vaccines(IPV) have been allowed in the US; they do not have the ability to spread the virus at all.

According to blood tests done at Wadsworth Center – New York State’s public health laboratory – and later confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control, the Rockland County patient has revertant polio, suggesting that they contracted it from a person from a country which still administers the old type of vaccine. Health officials told ABC News that the patient is an unvaccinated young adult.

Vaccines became available starting in 1955, and a national vaccination campaign cut the annual number of U.S. cases to less than 100 in the 1960s and fewer than 10 in the 1970s, according to the CDC. The last case of naturally contracted polio was documented in 1979, after which the country was declared polio free.

The New York State Health Department says that vaccinated people are considered to be at lower risk, but infection is still possible.

 “The polio vaccine is safe and effective protecting against this potentially debilitating disease,” State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said in a statement. “And it has been part of the backbone of required routine childhood immunizations recommended by health officials and public health agents agencies nationwide.”

The virus is highly contagious, and can even be spread by asymptomatic carriers. Infected people can take up to 30 days to exhibit symptoms, which include fatigue, fever, headache, stiffness, muscle pain and vomiting. Even before symptoms appear, an infected person can shed virus and spread it to others. In rare cases, polio can result in irreversible paralysis and death. According to the World Health Organization, only 1 in 200 cases result in paralysis, with between five and ten percent of such cases being fatal.

State and county health officials are advising medical practitioners and health care providers to be vigilant for additional cases.

Rockland County will be hosting local vaccine drives and will be partnering with health agencies and providers in the area.

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