There’s no polio in Ulster County at the moment, but government and health officials are dedicating resources toward detecting its presence as the virus has appeared recently during testing in other New York counties.
The first (and to date, only) confirmed New York case appeared late July in Rockland County. The CDC said this could be an indication of “several hundred cases” within the surrounding community. This triggered widespread wastewater sampling, which found evidence of poliovirus in other areas, genetically linked to the first case.
On September 9th, 2022, New York Governor Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency after poliovirus was found in wastewater samples taken from five counties in the state: Rockland, Orange, Sullivan, Nassau, and New York City.
On September 17th, the Office of the Ulster County Executive announced that it had begun regular wastewater testing in Kingston and New Paltz, with negative results for the presence of poliovirus. This comes at the request of the Ulster County Department of Health (UCDOH), with testing done by the New York State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). According to the CDC, poliovirus may remain present in the stool of infected individuals for up to six weeks.
“We thank the New York State Department of Health and CDC for enabling proactive testing of our wastewater,” said acting Ulster County Executive Johanna Contreras in a recent press release. “The results are reassuring, and I want to assure Ulster County residents that we are doing everything in our power to protect public health.”
“While the polio testing results for Ulster County are negative, it doesn’t mean that our community is immune from polio in the long term,” said UCDOH Commissioner Dr. Carol Smith.
Officials urged residents to check with their physician to ensure everyone in their family was vaccinated against polio. The statewide polio vaccination rate is 79%.
“Polio is a highly contagious disease that was thought to have been controlled through the administration of a very safe, effective and proven vaccine,” said Dr. Smith. “This is why the polio vaccine has been mandatory for all students attending public schools in New York State, for decades. The recent polio case that was diagnosed in New York State occurred in an unvaccinated person. In general, communicable disease outbreaks occur in those locations that have below average child vaccination rates.”
According to the CDC, approximately 70% of polio infections in children are asymptomatic. In 1% to 5% of cases, nonparalytic aseptic meningitis occurs, inflicting more severe symptoms that are followed by complete recovery. Less than 1% of cases result in flaccid paralysis, which is often permanent.
Scientists say a large U.S. outbreak is unlikely due to high vaccination rates and good sanitation, despite polio’s high level of communicability.
“Polio is preventable through safe and effective vaccination, and I strongly encourage all residents who are not vaccinated for polio to call their doctor and get vaccinated without delay,” said acting Ulster County Executive Johanna Conteras, echoing other health officials’ calls at a time when vaccine skepticism is on the rise.