In July 2022, CDC was notified of a case of polio in an unvaccinated individual from Rockland County, New York, and is working with the New York State Department of Health on their investigation. Public health experts are seeking to understand how and where the individual was infected and to provide protective measures, such as vaccinating under- and unvaccinated individuals. This effort does not change CDC recommendations for polio vaccination. CDC urges everyone at increased risk of exposure to poliovirus who is not fully vaccinated to complete the polio vaccination series as soon as possible. This includes unvaccinated and incompletely vaccinated residents of Rockland, Orange, and Sullivan Counties in New York, where poliovirus has been repeatedly detected in wastewater (sewage) during August 2022. For more information, visit https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/polio/public/index.html.
What is polio?
Polio (or poliomyelitis) is a disease caused by a virus that affects the nervous system and is mainly spread by person-to-person contact. Polio can also be spread by eating raw or undercooked food or drinking water or other drinks that are contaminated with the feces of an infected person.
It can cause lifelong paralysis (cannot move parts of the body), usually by paralyzing the muscles that help in breathing and it can be deadly.
What are the symptoms of polio?
Most people who get infected with poliovirus do not feel sick. Other people have only minor symptoms, including:
- Sore throat
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Nasal congestion
- Stomach pain
- Stiffness in the neck and back
- Pain in the arms and legs
These symptoms usually last 2 to 5 days, then go away on their own. Most people recover completely.
In rare cases, polio infection causes permanent loss of muscle function (paralysis) in the arms or legs (usually the legs); death can occur if there is loss of function of the muscles used for breathing or infection of the brain.
Is polio dangerous?
Yes. Before polio vaccines were developed, thousands of people a year in the United States were paralyzed and killed by the disease.
Who is at risk of catching polio?
People who never received or completed the polio vaccine series are most at risk of contracting and getting sick from poliovirus. The risk of severe disease and death after poliovirus infection in an unvaccinated person increases with increasing age.
How does polio spread?
Poliovirus is very contagious and spreads through person-to-person contact. It spreads through contact with the stool (poop) of an infected person or droplets from a sneeze or cough. If you get stool or droplets from an infected person on your hands and you touch your mouth, you can get infected. Also, if your child puts objects, like toys, that have stool or droplets on them into their mouth, they can get infected.
An infected person may spread the virus to others immediately before and usually 1 to 2 weeks after developing symptoms. The virus may live in an infected person’s intestines for many weeks. They can contaminate food and water when they touch it with unwashed hands.
Is there a cure for polio?
No, there is no cure for polio. The Polio vaccine is the best way to protect against polio. The inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) is the only polio vaccine used in the United States since 2000. It is given by injection and is extremely effective in protecting individuals from serious disease caused by the poliovirus.
How can you prevent polio?
Protect your children by having them vaccinated when they are 2 months, 4 months and 6-18 months old, and again when they are about to enter kindergarten. State regulations require children attending childcare/preschool, and those in kindergarten through grade 12 to be vaccinated against polio.
For more information please visit: Polio Vaccination: What Everyone Should Know | CDC
Most adults do not need polio vaccine because they were already vaccinated as children. But three groups of adults are at higher risk and should consider polio vaccination:
- People traveling to areas of the world where polio is occurring
- Laboratory workers who might handle poliovirus
- Healthcare workers treating patients who could have polio
How effective is the polio vaccine?
Two doses of inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) are 90% effective or more against paralytic polio; three doses are 99% to 100% effective.
Is polio eradicated in the U.S.?
Polio has been eliminated from the United States thanks to widespread polio vaccination in this country. Since 1979, no cases of polio have originated in the United States. There have been cases of polio in individuals with travel history outside of the country. The last reported case was in 2013. A recent case is now under investigation by public health officials in New York and the CDC.
Can polio spread between countries?
Polio does not respect borders – anyone who is not fully vaccinated against polio is at risk.
For every case of paralysis, there can be between 200 (for poliovirus type 1) and 2,000 (for poliovirus type 2) children infected without symptoms, so it is hard to detect polio and to prevent the virus from traveling. Unvaccinated people living in areas where immunity levels are low are particularly vulnerable.
The best way to protect yourself and your family from polio is through vaccination. Maintaining high vaccination coverage through routine childhood immunization program is critical to keep everyone in the United States safe from polio.
Should individuals traveling out of the country be vaccinated?
Polio, or poliomyelitis, has been eliminated from most of the world. But it still occurs in some countries. Even if you were previously vaccinated, you may need a one-time booster shot before traveling to a country where the risk of getting polio is greater.
Make sure you get your travel vaccination(s) well before your departure date to ensure complete protection. See your healthcare provider for more information or visit DPH’s Travel Clinical Assistant or the CDC’s Travelers’ Health website for travel health information.
For more information about polio, visit https://www.cdc.gov/polio/what-is-polio/index.htm.
Last Updated: 12/22/2022