You may have heard news in the last few months about the return of Polio Virus to some parts of the United States, specifically to the New York region. Polio had been eliminated in the United States. This new confirmed case of paralytic polio in an unvaccinated person has health officials worried. Many people who are infected don’t show any symptoms or have only mild symptoms. Unfortunately, even though they feel fine, infected people often spread the virus to others - especially children - who can become very sick, paralyzed, or even die.
How did Polio make a come back in the United States and where has it been found?
To understand how this happened, it is important to understand the different types of Polio and the different types of vaccines against Polio.
Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV) is a kind of vaccine that has the dead polio virus. This is the only kind of polio vaccine given in the United States.
Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) is a kind of vaccine given in other countries, but not in the United States. It contains a live strain of the virus that has been weakened. If it is allowed to circulate in under- or un-immunized groups of people for long enough or replicate in someone with a weakened immune system, the weakened virus can revert to a form that causes illness and paralysis.
The Polio Virus found in the New York region is a type that mutated from an OPV virus. It originally came from someone who traveled to the US from a country with a low vaccination rate that still uses OPV.
What can I do?
Make sure you and your children are up to date on your Polio vaccine. If you’re not sure, talk with your healthcare provider. Vaccinated adults who plan to travel to the New York area (or another country with Polio) can also get a lifetime booster shot against the virus. Talk with your provider about getting the shot and with your insurance company about coverage for adult vaccines.
All childhood vaccines for people 19 or younger are covered through the Vaccines for Children (VFC) Program. Find a VFC provider on this map. If childhood vaccines are given by a non-VCF provider, you may have an out-of-pocket cost.
Before the Polio Vaccine was invented, thousands of children in the US each year became paralyzed by the virus and hundreds died. We can prevent needless suffering and death by making sure this virus doesn’t spread within the United States ever again - make sure you and your family are vaccinated against Polio.
Read more about Polio Virus on the CDC website.