Health officials in New York state have issued an urgent warning that polio could be spreading in the community after the virus was detected in seven wastewater samples in two counties.
New York State Health Commissioner Dr Mary Bassett said in a statement they were treating the sole positive case of the infectious virus detected in Rockland County as the “tip of the iceberg”.
“Based on earlier polio outbreaks, New Yorkers should know that for every one case of paralytic polio observed, there may be hundreds of other people infected,” Dr Bassett said.
Polio was first detected in waste water samples in June in Rockland County, 35 miles north (56kms) of New York City. Samples of the virus were found again in Rockland County in July and in Orange County, which borders it to the north.
Dr Bassett urged unvaccinated New Yorkers, including children aged over two months and those who are pregnant to get immunised right away.
Those most at risk are anyone living in New York City or the two affected counties, both of which have polio vaccination rates well below the state average of 79 per cent.
Rockland County Department of Health Commissioner Dr Patricia Schnabel Ruppert described the spread of polio in the county as “unprecedented”.
The sole case detected in Rockland County was the first in the US in a decade, and left the unvaccinated patient paralysed.
There is no known cure for polio, but according to the CDC immunisation protects 99 per cent of children who receive the four doses.