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Polio virus found in New York wastewater after first case in nearly 10 years

Samples of infectious agent found north of New York City, indicating possible spread after Jewish man contracted life-threatening disease

This 1964 microscope image made available by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows damage from the polio virus to human spinal cord tissue. On Thursday, July 21, 2022, New York health officials reported a polio case, the first in the US in nearly a decade. (Dr. Karp/Emory University/CDC via AP)
This 1964 microscope image made available by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows damage from the polio virus to human spinal cord tissue. On Thursday, July 21, 2022, New York health officials reported a polio case, the first in the US in nearly a decade. (Dr. Karp/Emory University/CDC via AP)

The polio virus was detected in more wastewater samples north of New York City, this time in a county adjacent to where an unvaccinated adult recently contracted the life-threatening disease.

The polio virus was identified in wastewater collected from June and July in two locations in Orange County, indicating the virus could be circulating in the community. Orange County health officials said Thursday there were no confirmed cases in their suburban and rural county.

“It is important to keep in mind that although Polio virus was detected in wastewater, it does not unequivocally mean that there is active disease circulating in the County,” Orange County Health Commissioner Dr. Irina Gelman said in a prepared statement.

The discoveries were announced the same week health officials said they detected the presence of the virus in wastewater samples from Rockland County, where officials last month announced the first case of polio in the United States in nearly a decade.

The infected person was an Orthodox Jewish man from Rockland County’s large Jewish population. The area has below-average rates for vaccination against polio and other diseases, according to state data, and had a measles outbreak in 2018 and 2019.

Gelman said people who receive a weakened live polio vaccine in another country and come to the United States shortly after can shed the polio virus for some time. The US and many other countries use shots made with an inactivated version of the virus.

Polio, once one of the nation’s most feared diseases, was declared eliminated in the US in 1979, more than two decades after vaccines became available.

The Orange County wastewater samples were initially collected from municipal wastewater treatment plants for COVID-19 testing.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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