According to CDCno cases of polio have appeared in the United States since 1979. But cases have been brought into the country by travelers, and the last known case of polio in the United States was detected in 2013.
Jill Foster, a pediatric infectious disease physician at the University of Minnesota Medical School, likens the effects of polio on the body to those of damaged wires in your basement electrical box.
Once polio goes through the “wiring,” which she uses as a metaphor for nerves, “it ruins the wiring, and so you don’t get any nerve signals to your muscles, and your muscles just stop working,” says Foster.
According to CDC. Other ways to contract the disease include:
- Picking up tiny pieces of feces from the infected person on your hands and touching your mouth
- Putting objects contaminated with the feces of an infected person in your mouth
Serious consequences of poliomyelitis include meningitis, infection of the lining of the spinal cord and/or brain, and paralysis, inability to move parts of the body, agency said. And unfortunately, there is no cure for the virus and only treatment for the symptoms.
Last month’s confirmed case in Rockland County, New York, occurred in an unvaccinated adult who developed severe symptoms, including paralysis, and was hospitalized, according to the state health department. New York State.
But what does all this mean for you? Well, it depends on your vaccination status, according to Foster.
Here are his answers to some of the most frequently asked questions from internet users about polio:
How worried should I be about polio right now? Am I in danger?
The good news is that if you’re vaccinated against polio, you have nothing to worry about unless you’re immunocompromised, Foster says.
She recommends immunocompromised people see their doctor, who may then suggest checking their antibody levels. The results will help decide whether or not they should receive a polio booster.
Practicing good hand hygiene, such as washing your hands before eating, is also a great way to protect yourself further, she adds.
“The primary mode of polio transmission is fecal, oral, so everything we’ve done since the pandemic started, I think is a really good thing,” Foster says. “And it will also protect against polio.”
If you are not fully immune to polio, you are most at risk of contracting the disease, she notes. This also includes children under one year old, especially babies under 6 months old; while they may have some protection from the initial vaccines, they are not yet fully immune to polio, Foster says.
The CDC recommends that children receive four doses of polio vaccine, with one dose at the following ages: two months, four months, six months to 18 months, and four to six years.
“I would worry if I had a baby who lived in New York who only had one or two shots and then was surrounded by people who didn’t wash their hands and who weren’t vaccinated,” says Foster.
Have I been vaccinated against poliomyelitis? Can I get a new vaccine just in case?
If you have access to childhood immunization records, search for “IPV,” which stands for Inactivated Polio Vaccine. With four doses of IPV on file, you have excellent protection against polio.
“If they have IPV on their immunization record, then they’re good,” Foster says, “Some people will look for the words that actually say ‘polio’ and it’s not going to say that.”
Depending on where you were born or where you lived when you received your vaccines, “OPV” may be on your immunization records, i.e. oral polio vaccine. Several countries administer oral polio vaccines, according to the CDC.
If you can’t access your childhood immunization records and want to get your polio shots for extra protection, Foster says there’s no harm in doing so.
I was vaccinated when I was a child, but can I have a booster?
Currently, polio boosters are not recommended for people who received their first vaccines as children, Foster says. Officials believe that immunity lasts a very long time, she adds.
With a low number of cases, Foster does not expect polio boosters to be recommended unless there is a slight increase. However, that could change depending on the extent of the spread of polio in the United States, she notes.
“I think the CDC people are talking about it. It may come now that we’re seeing there’s a wider spread, more than people thought,” Foster says, “It may come for certain geographies where we know it’s in the water.”