Why polio has reemerged, and how to stay safe: Experts advise

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In 1952, the United States experienced its largest outbreak of polio with about 20,000 cases.

The availability of the inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) in 1955 eradicated the disease in the U.S.

A few weeks ago, however, the New York State Department of Health alerted community members that a person in Rockland County tested positive for polio and they found evidence of poliovirus in wastewater samples in Rockland and Orange Counties.

United Kingdom health officials recently announced the discovery of the poliovirus in two areas of London.

Many people now have questions on how this might affect the health of everyone in the U.S. Here are some things you need to know, courtesy of medical experts.

In the 1950s, the United States experienced a large outbreak of poliomyelitis (polio) — a viral infection causing paralysis, breathing issues, and possibly death. At the peak of the outbreak in 1952, there were about 20,000 casesTrusted Source of polio in the country.

In 1955, the first polio vaccineTrusted Source — known as the trivalent inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) — became available. Widespread vaccination helped lower the number of polio casesTrusted Source each year in the U.S. to less than 100 in the 1960s and less than 10 in the 1970s.

All U.S. states currently require children to receive polio vaccinations to attend elementary school and child care.

Since 1979Trusted Source, no cases of polio have reportedly originated in the U.S., although some cases have occasionally occurred due to the virus spreading through international travel.

First polio case in the US in almost a decade

On July 21, 2022, the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) and Rockland County Department of Health alerted the public to a case of polio in an adult Rockland County resident, making it the first U.S. polio case since 2013.

According to NYSDOH health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), evidence suggests the Rockland County resident contracted polio from someone who had received oral polio vaccine (OPV)Trusted Source — a live version of the polio vaccine no longer administeredTrusted Source in the U.S.

Then on August 4, 2022, NYSDOH reported researchers had found wastewater samples positive for the polio virus genetically linked to the Rockland County resident diagnosed with polio.

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