Column by Dr. Richard Sternberg

Polio, Part II

Three weeks ago, this column covered the topic of polio, its cause, symptoms, complications, treatment, and prevention. Polio continues to be in the news, especially in New York, because there are indications that it is spreading geographically. Polio virus has been found in wastewater in Nassau County, Long Island.

Last Friday, Governor Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency because of the increasing number of positive tests and the apparent spread outward from the initial location. The order is to better enable health care providers to fight the disease and prevent further outbreaks of paralysis.

Among other things it will require providers to send vaccination data to the state Department of Health to better track the total numbers around the state in order to direct the greatest efforts in those areas. The order also allows expanded authorization of who can administer the vaccine. During the emergency, midwives, pharmacists, and other licensed paraprofessionals can vaccinate.

Dr. Mary Bassett, State Commissioner of Health, urged all people who have not been vaccinated, and especially whose children have not been vaccinated, to do so immediately. The only way to stop the spread of the disease is to take away its opportunity to infect somebody.

In the United States the only polio vaccine currently approved is the inactivated form of the virus which has to be given by injection. This form has no possibility of becoming active polio. The oral form of the medication, which many older adults received, has the small possibility of mutating into a transmissible form. This is why it is no longer used in the United States.

Other than supportive care, there is no treatment for symptomatic disease.

The original New York case in Rockland County has been the only one diagnosed so far. This was in a person who was unvaccinated. For them to be infected they must have been exposed to someone who had been vaccinated outside the United States with the oral-attenuated form.

IMO, with a disease as devastating as polio and with a preventative measure with a long-standing safety track record, I cannot understand how anyone could not want themselves or their children to be vaccinated.

I have come to understand the thinking of people hesitant about COVID-19 vaccination because of the newness of it, even though I still strongly disagree with them, but the injected, inactivated or dead poliovirus vaccine has over a 60-year track record.

Furthermore, the selfish idea that since everyone else is vaccinated I don’t have to be, breaks down very quickly when multiple people take this attitude. In any event they are of course putting their families at risk.

This is the way I would look at polio vaccinations now: If you don’t know yours, or your children’s vaccination status, do your best to track down the records. It may take some energy but it should be possible for children and young adults.
For older individuals whose medical records from many years ago no longer exist, do your best to find out. Ask family members. Many of us could not have attended school decades ago without being adequately vaccinated. If you know that vaccination has not been completed, GET VACCINATED NOW!

If you can’t prove that your children have been vaccinated, get them vaccinated. Otherwise for older people who don’t know, either get vaccinated, especially if you are going into an endemic area, or that area keeps expanding toward you.

Dr. Richard Sternberg,
retired Bassett Hospital orthopedic surgeon, is providing his professional perspective during the COVID-19 threat. Also a village trustee, he lives in Cooperstown.

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