When I learned weeks ago that we United States the first case of polio in nearly ten years, a young New Yorker who became paralyzed, Brittany Strickland trembled with “fear”.
“IT IS terrifying. We didn’t think it would happen here,” said the 33-year-old woman, interviewed by AFP in Pomona, a town in New York’s Rockland County, 50 kilometers north of Manhattan.
“My mother was against vaccines and I realized that, as a girl, I was not vaccinated against poliomyelitis”, confesses this artist who has just received her first dose against a virus that had practically disappeared.
In mid-August, the health authorities of New York warned that the highly contagious disease – which is transmitted through faeces, secretions from the nose and throat or by drinking contaminated water – had been detected in wastewater.
A “worrying but not surprising” finding, according to officials, who believe “the virus is likely to be circulating locally” and that New Yorkers who have not yet been vaccinated should do so as soon as possible.
O Rockland County’s first proven case of polio was reported in mid-Julythe first in the United States since 2013.
60% of children vaccinated
In the city of New York, 86% of children aged six months to five years received three doses of the vaccinewhich means that the remaining 14% are not fully protected.
in the county of rocklandonly 60% of two year olds are vaccinatedcompared with 79% in New York state overall and 92% nationwide, according to health officials.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said they were “concerned” and sent experts to the state of New York to improve detection and vaccination, as it is a disease that could have “devastating consequences and irreversible”.
Polio, which mainly affects the youngest and causes paralysis, is practically eradicated in the world, with the exception of countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In the United States, the number of diagnoses dropped in the late 1950s, thanks to the first vaccine.
The dangers of the oral vaccine
The last natural infection in the US dates back to 1979. But health officials know that, in rare cases, unvaccinated people can be infected by others who received the vaccine orally.
In June of this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that a variant of the polio virus derived from oral vaccines was found in wastewater from London.
The analysis of Rockland’s case also indicates that the young New Yorker’s infection would have come from a person who had received the immunizer orally.
In the oral vaccine, a variant of the virus replicates in the intestine and can be transmitted through wastewater that contains fecal matter.
Despite being less virulent than the natural virus, the variant can still cause severe symptoms, such as paralysis of the extremities.
And given that Rockland’s patient had not traveled out of the country, New York state officials believe the disease was transmitted locally, within the county.
According to local media, Rockland’s patient is an American Orthodox Jew in his 20s.
As communicator Shoshana Bernstein acknowledges, her community is traditionally reluctant to vaccines, like “any isolated and closed group”.
In a public letter released last week, several rabbis urged Jews to get vaccinated, a message Bernstein shares and seeks to replicate.
For that, she intends to lean on “the most veteran Jews”, who remember the polio of the 1950s and can convince reticent young people.
More pessimistic, New York University virologist John Dennehy, who thought that polio was “on the verge of extinction”, now fears that the Rockland case is “the tip of the iceberg”.
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