Polio

Polio in New York State – July 2022

On July 21, 2022, the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) and the Rockland County Department of Health (RCDOH) alerted the public to a case of polio in a Rockland County resident.

Identified by NYSDOH's Wadsworth Center Laboratory and confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), NYSDOH continues to work in lockstep with local, national, and global public health authorities to conduct case investigation, protect against spread, and urge vaccination – the best tool to keep New Yorkers and New York children polio-free.

Get vaccinated!

All New Yorkers who are unvaccinated, including children 2 months and older, those who are pregnant, and people who have not completed their polio vaccine series previously should get vaccinated right away. Learn about vaccine clinics and other ways you can receive the polio vaccine.

What is polio?

Polio is a serious and life-threatening disease. A virus that can affect the nervous system and cause muscle weakness, some polio cases can result in paralysis or death. There is no cure for polio, but it is preventable through safe and effective vaccination.

How does polio spread?

Polio is very contagious, and a person can spread the virus even if they aren't sick or experiencing symptoms.

The polio virus enters the body through the mouth, usually from hands contaminated with the stool of an infected person. Respiratory and oral-to-oral transmission through saliva may also occur. Symptoms, which can be mild and flu-like (fatigue, fever, headache, stiffness, muscle pain, vomiting), can take up to 30 days to appear, during which time an infected individual can be shedding virus to others.

In communities with lower vaccination rates, polio can spread even more easily. That is why it is so important all New Yorkers 2 months and older to get vaccinated against polio as soon as possible.

What are the symptoms of polio?

Polio is highly infectious. There are a range of symptoms people infected with polio may experience, ranging from having no symptoms, to mild and flu-like symptoms, to serious symptoms, including paralysis, permanent disability or post-polio syndrome, and even death.

Mild & Flu-like Symptoms

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), up to 90% of people infected with polio experience no or mild symptoms. According to CDC, about 25% of people will experience flu-like symptoms, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Stiffness
  • Muscle or stomach pain
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Sore throat

Serious Symptoms, & Paralysis

A smaller proportion of people will develop more serious symptoms that affect the brain and spinal cord, including:

  • Paresthesia (feeling of pins and needles in the legs)
  • Meningitis (infection of the covering of the spinal cord and/or brain)
  • Paralysis (can't move parts of the body) or weakness in the arms, legs, or both

Post-polio Syndome, Disability & Death

New Yorkers should know that paralysis is the most severe symptom associated with polio, because it can lead to permanent disability and death. Even children who seem to fully recover can develop new muscle pain, weakness, or paralysis as adults 15 to 40 years later. This is called post-polio syndrome.

According to the WHO, of those paralyzed, 5-10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilized.

New Yorkers should know that paralysis is the most severe symptom associated with polio, because it can lead to permanent disability and death. Even children who seem to fully recover can develop new muscle pain, weakness, or paralysis as adults 15 to 40 years later. This is called post-polio syndrome.

How can I protect myself against polio?

The best way to keep New York polio-free is to maintain high immunity across the population through vaccination.

All New Yorkers can protect themselves against polio through safe and effective vaccination. Long included on CDC's child and adolescent immunization schedule and NYSDOH's required school immunization list, all school-age New Yorkers must be vaccinated before they start school. This means many New Yorkers should already be fully and safely vaccinated. If you or your child are not yet vaccinated, now is the time to reach out to a healthcare provider or your local county health department to get vaccinated.

In addition to vaccination, access to clean water, good hand hygiene habits, modern sewage systems and wastewater management further prevent germs, including viruses like poliovirus, from spreading.

What should healthcare providers do?

NYSDOH urges all healthcare providers to ensure their patients are up to date on the polio vaccine, especially children and New Yorkers at heightened risk of exposure because of the current case identified in Rockland County.

Healthcare providers should consider polio in the differential diagnosis of patients with sudden onset of limb weakness with history of fever and/or gastrointestinal illness. Providers should especially be on alert for these symptoms in unvaccinated individuals, those currently at increased risk of community transmission, or those with recent international travel or exposures to international travelers.

Improving vaccination coverage for polio and other vaccine preventable diseases is critical to the public health of all New Yorkers. Providers should take time in every primary care visit, adults, and children, to ensure that they are up to date with the recommended vaccines for their age.