Health on the Frontlines: Polio, Past & Present

Vaccination for booster shot for Polio IPV Inactivated poliomyelitis Virus in the child population. Doctor with vial of the doses vaccine and syringe for Polio IPV Inactivated poliomyelitis Virus polio vaccine
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Polio is a virus that may cause paralysis and is easily preventable by the polio vaccine. There is no antiviral treatment for polio at this time. In the 1940s, 35,000 people a year became disabled from polio until the mass vaccination program that started in 1955, and in 1979 it was eradicated in the U.S.

The last reported case brought in from outside the U.S. was in 2013 in Orange County and the five boroughs of New York City. Rockland County has only a 60% vaccination rate compared to 90% of the rest of New York. There are enclaves of certain religious sects that don’t believe in vaccines, and other anti-vaxers that don’t realize the serious risk of having a child paralyzed with polio.

Polio spreads via contaminated food or water and enters via the mouth into the intestinal tract. Food handlers must thoroughly wash hands in restaurants and factories. We should all be diligent about washing our hands and not touching our faces after extensive handshaking at events. Most cases are asymptomatic.

Please make sure your family vaccines for polio are up to date. If traveling to an endemic area of polio, get a booster shot.

Think positive and test negative. Keep calm and carry on, this too shall pass.

Peter Michalos, MD is associate professor of clinical ophthalmology, Columbia University VP&S; chairman, Hamptons Health Society; and a Southampton resident.

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