Of course, these events raised many questions: Why should a polio case concern the authorities? What does finding polio virus in wastewater mean? Who should worry about the disease? If someone got the vaccine years ago, is it still protected?
CNN: So far, there is only one documented case of polio-related paralysis in New York. Why should an issue concern health officials?
CNN: What does it mean when polio virus was found in sewage in five counties, including New York City?
Wen: Finding poliovirus in sewage means one of two things: there are people with polio who are shedding the virus, or it could be a sign of the virus from people who have recently received the oral polio vaccine. OPV is no longer given in the United States – the version used in the US since 2000 is the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) – but other countries are still using OPV, and travelers from those places may be. They are shedding virus from the vaccine.
In rare cases, the weakened virus from people who have received OPV can cause paralytic polio in unvaccinated people – which is the main reason OPV is not used in the US.
CNN: How do people get polio?
CNN: Should New Yorkers be worried about getting polio?
Wen: Again, people who have been vaccinated against polio are extremely protected against paralytic polio, and should not worry at this point. However, it should be noted that while IPV is very effective in preventing the worst effects of the disease, people who have been vaccinated can still carry polio and transmit it to others. Those most at risk of serious consequences are the unvaccinated and under-vaccinated, including young children under 6 years of age who have not yet completed their polio vaccinations.
CNN: How many polio vaccines should someone get?
Adults who have never been vaccinated against polio should receive three doses of IPV. The first should be given as soon as possible, the second one to two months later and the third six to 12 months later.
CNN: If someone got the vaccine years ago, is it still protected? Who should get the polio booster now?
CNN: What if you’re not sure if you should get vaccinated? Don’t remember getting the vaccine and it’s been years. Is there a blood test you can take to confirm either way?
Wen: You can check with your primary care physician’s office or state health department to see if your immunization records are available. If they don’t and you have no other way to make sure—for example, by asking parents or other relatives or caregivers—you should talk to your health care provider about getting a full polio vaccine. There is no blood test that can reliably confirm whether or not you have been fully vaccinated against polio.
CNN: What if you or your family members haven’t received the polio vaccine yet?
Wen: People who have not yet received a dose or are incompletely vaccinated should receive their full polio vaccine immediately. This is especially important if you live in or around Rockland County, New York — but of course, everyone should be up to date with their vaccinations.
Decades ago, it was a tragedy that many children were permanently paralyzed and died from polio. This should not happen again because we have effective vaccines to prevent the worst consequences of the disease.