Hundreds may be contaminated, based on wastewater findings in 2 provinces

What a waste. On Thursday, the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) announced that they had found poliovirus in June and July in wastewater samples from two counties, Orange County and Rockland County. This water polio announcement came two weeks after the NYSDOH announced on July 21 that an unvaccinated adult in Rockland County had become infected with the polio virus and became paralyzed as a result. If you’re wondering, “hmmm, polio, I don’t get it,” it’s because the US was declared polio-free in 1979. That statement came after years of public health efforts to get the American population vaccinated against this dangerous and potentially deadly virus. Yet such a return of New York’s polio virus raises more concerns that continued anti-vaccination campaigns may set our country back many decades, wasting all the hard work that had made the US polio-free in the first place.

This case in Rockland County was the first confirmed case of polio in New York State since 1990 and the first confirmed case in the entire US since 2013. Those previous cases involved travelers who had become infected abroad. Finding the virus in wastewater at different locations in two different New York state counties for two months makes this a more poop situation in more ways than one. It suggests that people have been pooping the virus for a while with an emphasis on the word “people,” as with more than one person. It is probably unlikely that one person infected with the polio virus has toilet hopping in New York state, walking around with several random toilets in the two counties. According to the NYSDOH announcement, finding the virus now in three Rockland County wastewater samples and four Orange County samples provides “further evidence of local — not international — transmission of a polio virus that can cause paralysis and possible spread of communities.” In other words, the virus could spread again in the US. Oh joy.

And here’s another thing that could make you fall off your chair: Hundreds of people may already be infected with the virus. Yes, as you can see in the following tweet, New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett: “Based on past polio outbreaks, New Yorkers should know that for every case of paralytic polio seen, there could be hundreds of other people infected”:

This one-to-hundred estimate comes from the observation that about 72 out of every 100 people infected with the virus will eventually have no visible symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And about 25 in 100 will only have flu-like symptoms for two to five days, such as fever, sore throat, fatigue, nausea, headache and stomach pain. As you can imagine, most people with such flu-like symptoms don’t automatically say, “OMG, I might have polio” and go to a doctor to get the diagnosis.

You’ve heard the phrase “silent but deadly” when it comes to other gastrointestinal (GI) problems? Well, this is a virus that can inhabit your gastrointestinal tract, spread silently among several people and be deadly to some. Because the virus can be shed in your stool, it mainly spreads through the fecal-oral route, which is a fancy way of saying poop-to-mouth. If you’re saying you don’t normally put poop in your mouth, you’re wrong, just like a bedroom gong. People are often pretty bad at washing their hands after making a deposit on the toilet. So if people still have feces on their hands on the things they touch, there is poop.

As you can see in the tweet above, Bassett went on to say, “Combined with the latest wastewater findings, the Department is treating the single case of polio as just the tip of the iceberg of a much larger potential spread. As we learn more, what we do know is clear: the danger of polio is present in New York today.” Just what you needed with the Covid-19 pandemic and the monkey pox outbreak, another infectious disease to worry about right now.

With polio virus, of course, the biggest concern is the one in a hundred or so people who eventually develop very serious problems with their brain or spinal cord or both, such as abnormal sensations, meningitis or paralysis, which is weakness or inability to move the arms, legs or other moving parts of the body. Such problems can be life-threatening, especially when the paralysis affects the muscles that help you move air in and out of your lungs. After all, breathing in such a way is kind of important, unless you happen to be a ficus plant.

Before you start loading up on supplements, ivermectin, or a fake treatment that you think will help against polio, keep in mind that there is no cure for polio. The best protection against polio is to get the inactivated polio virus vaccine (IPV), which can provide about 99% protection if you have received all four recommended doses. In theory, if you are or were a child in the US, you should already have been vaccinated against polio, as it is one of the required vaccinations for many school-age children. But as of August 1, 2022, the polio vaccination rate was just 60.34 percent in Rockland County and just 58.68 percent in Orange County, based on New York state records. Both were significantly lower than the national average of 78.96 percent. Gosh, wonder why the case of paralyzed polio just happened to pop up in Rockland County and polio virus was found in both Rockland and Orange County?

Bassett urged anyone who has not been vaccinated against polio to do so:

The NYSDOH announcement also included the following statement from Orange County Health Commissioner Irina Gelman, MPH DPM, PhD: “It is concerning that polio, a disease largely eradicated by vaccination, is now circulating in our community, especially considering the low rates of vaccination for this debilitating disease in certain areas of our county, I urge all unvaccinated Orange County residents to get vaccinated as soon as medically possible.”

Concerns indeed. Getting the U.S. polio-free in 1979 was a major public health achievement. As the CDC describes, in the late 1940s, on average, polio was causing more than 35,000 people with disabilities in the U.S. each year, many of them children, and parents who were afraid to let their children go outside, especially during the summer when virus activity is highest. The development and rollout of the oral polio vaccine (OPV) and IPV in the 1950s and 1960s changed all that. That’s why people have been able to say this: did you hear the joke about polio? It used to be killer, but no one gets it anymore. Well, the joke now is that people who don’t get a polio vaccine threaten to wipe out all the progress that has been made. What a waste.

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