NY issues travel alert for Israel after 8-year-old gets paralytic polio. What to know
After Israeli health officials reported a little girl's paralysis from polio, the New York State Department of Health is urging any travelers to Israel, and several other nations where polio is circulating, to ensure they are vaccinated against the highly contagious virus.
The 8-year-old, who resides in Safed in northern Israel, had never been vaccinated against polio.
The case comes about eight months after a 20-year-old in Rockland County was left permanently paralyzed after a bout of polio. He also had never received polio vaccinations.
According to The Times of Israel, three others tested positive for the virus but were asymptomatic. Their polio vaccination status was unknown. In 2022, seven children tested positive for poliovirus in Jerusalem.
No other person has been found to have had polio in the U.S. since the July 2022 case in Rockland County.
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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges enhanced precautions for travelers because of circulating polio in Israel, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia, Nigeria, Côte d'Ivoire and several other central African countries.
Why the concern?
With Passover starting the evening of April 5 and continuing through April 13, increased travel is expected between New York and Israel, Rockland officials said, and there is a real risk of spread of poliovirus among people who are unvaccinated.
With Easter on April 9 and most Hudson Valley public schools closed a week or more for spring recess, family travel will be up across the region.
Polio is stealthy and potentially deadly: Nearly three-quarters of people who get it are asymptomatic; about 25% may get flulike symptoms. Less than 1% could have the most severe effects, including permanent paralysis, meningitis and death.
Wastewater testing in downstate New York and Israel have shown the virus continues to circulate. The virus sheds in fecal matter, so sewage testing can provide evidence of polio, but cannot gauge levels of the virus.
Polio has been detected in sewage from Rockland, Orange, Sullivan, Nassau and New York City. So far, no 2023 samples have shown positive for the virus. Polio is considered a cyclical virus that spikes in summer and fall.
What can be done now?
Federal officials recommend four vaccine doses: to be given at 2 months of age; at 4 months; at 6 to 18 months; and at age 4 through 6 years.
The inactive polio vaccine is the only one used in the U.S. and is considered extremely safe.
Doctors and pediatricians, federally qualified health centers and county health departments can help children and adults get polio shots.
Even a single dose to start the cycle will offer protection, health officials say. Two doses offer 90% protection. Full vaccination against the virus is considered nearly 100% effective at stopping illness from the virus.
Porous vaccination rates
Vaccine resistance, hesitancy and delays have caused pockets of low vaccination rates here and abroad.
While the CDC reports that 93% of 2-year-olds in the U.S. had received at least three doses of polio vaccine, the vaccination rate for children ages 2 and under in Orange County is just below 59%, in Rockland County, it's just above 60%, and in Yates County in Western New York, it's below 54%.
Rates jump when kids reach school age in New York, where the polio vaccination is among the mandatory inoculations for public and private school attendance.
“These latest cases substantiate our tremendous concern for children in our county and our laser focus on vaccinating young children, who are are totally defenseless against polio," Rockland County Executive Ed Day said. "We need to kill this disease before it gains a foothold here and I once again urge our residents to act now and protect yourselves, your family, and your community.”
Nancy Cutler writes about People & Policy. Follow her on Twitter at @nancyrockland.
This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Polio alert: New York reports Israel case, urges shots for travelers