ASHEVILLE, NC – August 26, 2022 – Polio is an infectious disease caused by the polio virus. It is highly infectious and spreads from person-to-person. Polio has an asymptomatic form, a mild form and a severe form. The majority of people with polio do not have any symptoms so it can spread silently. Symptoms of sore throat and fever are in the mild form. The severe type affects the central nervous system resulting in paralysis or non-paralytic nerve damage and weakness. About 1 in 200 infected persons will become paralyzed. By the 20th century, polio became one of the most worrisome childhood diseases in the U.S. and the world. In 1952, prior to the polio vaccine rollout in 1955, there were more than 20,000 cases of paralysis in the U.S. due to polio. With the discovery of polio vaccines, mass immunization of people in developed countries followed by developing nations led to a sharp decline in the number of polio cases in the U.S. and worldwide. By 2021, there were only 6 confirmed cases in 3 countries (Pakistan, Afghanistan and Malawi).
There is no cure for polio, but it can be prevented through vaccination. One type of vaccine is weakened live virus administered orally and the other type is inactivated polio virus given by injection. Only the inactivated vaccine is used in the U.S. However, the oral vaccine is used in much of the world. Therefore, a person who receives the oral vaccine can spread a weakened form of polio virus to others. In communities with low vaccination rates, or in immunocompromised persons, the weakened virus can mutate to a virulent form that can cause severe polio illness.
Four doses of the injected vaccine, usually administered between ages 2 months and 6 years, can provide at least 99% protection against severe disease. No cases of polio have originated in the U.S. since 1979. However, the last time polio has been in this country was brought in by travelers in 2013. According to the CDC, almost 93% of all children in the U.S. have had the full polio vaccination series. Therefore, the elimination of polio has been attributed to a successful vaccination program.
Wastewater surveillance has been used to track disease-producing virus material that can be shed in an infected person’s stool. Scientists can use this data to track the amount of virus material and whether it is rising or falling in a particular area. This technique has been used to study the amount of COVID-19 virus in a community. Recently, it been used to track polio virus in many communities in the U.S. and worldwide. This year, the polio virus has also been detected in wastewater in New York City and surrounding counties, Israel and London. The Metropolitan Sewage District plant for Buncombe County in partnership with the Buncombe County Health Department, the CDC, and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, has been testing for COVID-19. According to General Manager Tom Hartye, the district plant does not presently test for polio.
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Contact: Dick Needleman, Health reporter, 103.3 AshevilleFM, firstname.lastname@example.org