Is polio back? Here’s who experts say could be at risk in the US. | JUST THE FAQs


Why health experts think it’s unlikely a polio case in the U.S. could lead to a country-wide outbreak like COVID-19.

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In the early 1900s, up to 35,000 Americans a year were disabled by polio. The virus, which mainly spread during summer months, was finally tamed with a highly effective and widely embraced vaccine.

For decades, transmission had disappeared in the United States. Until now.

New York reported a confirmed case of paralytic polio in July, and wastewater surveillance showed the virus may have been circulating in neighboring counties since April.

Health experts are calling it a “wake-up call,” but they don’t think the single case or subsequent viral detection will lead to a countrywide outbreak akin to COVID-19 or monkeypox, as over 90% of the country’s young children are vaccinated against polio.

Experts, however, say pockets of unvaccinated people across the country may be at risk.

“What worries me is the communities where vaccination is suboptimal,” said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, professor of epidemiology and medicine at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. “It is in those communities where you’re likely to get spread rather than communities with coverage.”

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