Huntington Expert Explains Polio and Value of Vaccinations

The recent diagnosis of a case of polio in Rockland County has raised concerns and questions about the disease but an expert at Huntington Hospital says that the high vaccination rate should protect the population.

Dr. Adrian Popp, head of the infectious diseases department at Huntington Hospital, said the unvaccinated Rockland man hadn’t traveled overseas, meaning the disease was acquired in the local community.  “We haven’t had a flaccid case since 1979, so that obviously raised a huge concern.” Corrected date

The polio virus has since been found in the waste waters of Rockland and Orange Counties and New York City.

Popp said that while the national vaccination for polio is about 92 percent, the number in Rockland for children under 2 is only about 62 percent.

“The concern is that the virus is circulating in the area and that the unvaccinated come in contact with the virus” and get the disease, Popp said. Polio affects people different ways, the flaccid, or paralytic version, is the most serious, while, he said, most cases are mild.
The disease spreads through fecal or oral transmission, with the virus ending up in wastewater.
People who were children before the first polio vaccine was developed in 1955 remember closed beaches and swimming pools, as the fear of the disease leading to paralysis, leg braces or life in an iron lung took hold every year.
“By mid-century, polio had become the nation’s most feared disease. And with good reason. It hit without warning. It killed some victims and marked others for life, leaving behind vivid reminders for all to see: wheelchairs, crutches, leg braces and deformed limbs,” the Yale School of Medicine says.
But the vaccination changed the trajectory and continues to work, Popp said. “It is included in the kids schedule in the first year of life. And it protects all of us for the rest of our lives,” Popp said.The only time an American might need a booster polio vaccine would be if they are traveling to a part of the world where the disease hasn’t been vanquished.
Popp noted that the oral vaccine, which was first used in 1960, hasn’t been used since 2000 in the United States because it relied on a weakened live form of the virus, and physicians now administer a vaccine using an inactivated polio virus.
Popp said that parents should keep to the vaccination schedule recommended for children. “The schedule is there for a reason,” he said. Vaccinations, he said, are 99 percent effective against paralytic polio. The success rate, he said, is so high that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “considers one case an outbreak.”

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