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Polio virus detected in New York City wastewater, health officials urge vaccinations

Polio virus detected in wastewater in New York City
Polio virus detected in wastewater in New York City 02:40

NEW YORK -- Polio has been detected in New York City wastewater, health officials said Friday. 

The virus is likely circulating in the five boroughs, according to an announcement by the city and state health departments, which also stressed polio is preventable with vaccination, CBS2's Andrea Grymes reported. 

New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said the finding "is alarming, but not surprising. Already, the State Health Department – working with local and federal partners – is responding urgently, continuing case investigation and aggressively assessing spread. The best way to keep adults and children polio-free is through safe and effective immunization – New Yorkers' greatest protection against the worst outcomes of polio, including permanent paralysis and even death." 

It's yet another health concern for weary New Yorkers. 

"Great. As if I didn't have enough to worry about," said Allen Blustine, from the Upper West Side. 

"That's something that was, basically you didn't hear about, and now it's flourishing? That's a concern," said Elaine Sparkman, from East Harlem. 

Polio was eliminated in the U.S. after vaccines were introduced in the 1950s and 60s. The virus can cause paralysis and, in some cases, death. It's transmitted through sneeze or cough droplets, or through water and food contaminated with fecal material from an infected person. 

New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan said the polio vaccine is still effective. 

"I understand the nervousness and I understand anxiety. But we're here to reassure people that while the risk of polio is real, so are are the solutions," Vasan told CBS2. 

There has been renewed worry about polio since a case was identified in July in Rockland County.

In addition, routine vaccination rates among children fell during the COVID pandemic. Only 86.2 percent of New York City children between 6 months and 5 years old have received three doses of the polio vaccine, according to city officials. 

Neighborhoods with the lowest numbers (below 70 percent) including Williamsburg, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Battery Park City. 

"As a parent, this is a responsibility we're putting on your shoulders right now," said Gov. Kathy Hochul. "We're asking you to work with us." 

"It Is concerning because polio is a highly contagious disease that used to cause thousands of cases of paralysis in the United States before vaccines were readily availably," said Dr. Juan Tapia Mendoza, a pediatrician with Somos Community Care. 

Polio can lead to paralysis of the arms and legs, and can be fatal due to paralysis of the muscles used to breathe or swallow. Most people infected with the virus do not have symptoms, though some experience flu-like symptoms, including sore throat, fever, tiredness, nausea and stomach pain.   

Vasan said the city is not recommending booster shots for adults right now. If you're unsure of your polio vaccination status, check with your doctor. 

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