ALBANY, N.Y. (WTEN) — Health officials continue to urge New Yorkers who have not received the polio vaccine to do so. An unvaccinated individual in Rockland County tested positive for the disease back in July and is now experiencing paralysis. Capitol Correspondent Amal Tlaige spoke with Orange County Commissioner of Health, Irina Gelman.

Health officials are confirming the detection of the poliovirus in wastewater samples in Orange and Rockland County. However, the virus is not typically transmitted through water unless you’re handling lots of fecal specimens that contain the virus, “And typically an individual may shed viral particles especially with poliovirus either upon active infection or any individual that has traveled outside of the United States that may have obtained a different type of vaccine,” explains Commissioner Gelman.

That vaccine is an oral vaccine with the live polio virus which is not available in the U.S. Commissioner Gelman says we have not had an active polio virus in the country since 1979, but we have had sporadic singular cases. So how exactly is polio transmitted? 

“Either direct droplet transmission so saliva exchange of some sort, of very close contact via droplets or even more typical is the fecal-oral route,” said Gelman.

It’s highly contagious. The Commissioner says most people should already be vaccinated, as it’s typically part of the doctor’s vaccine regimen. However, since the pandemic there’s been a tremendous decrease in pediatric, age-appropriate vaccinations which leads to higher rates of transmission. She says with positive cases, most people do not present any symptoms or will exhibit flu-like symptoms and the cases of paralysis are rare.

“Polio is a very disabling and life threatening disease which can affect a person’s brain spinal cord and it can most certainly lead to paralysis, meningitis, paraphysia,” she said. That’s why Gelman along with other health officials say it’s extremely important for unvaccinated people to get the vaccine. Especially children two months and older and women who are pregnant.