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Is polio making a comeback?

First coronavirus, then monkeypox, then RSV and now a disease many of us have forgotten; polio.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — If it seems like we’ve been battling one virus after another for the past two years, you’re right. Federal officials are now stepping up to monitor and potentially fight the spread of polio. It’s a disease that spreads from person to person and can cause paralysis and death in people who are not vaccinated against it.

If you’re 70 or older, you probably remember a machine called the iron lung that kept polio patients breathing. But now, decades after Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was approved for use, polio is making headlines again. This summer, health experts identified one case of paralytic polio in an unvaccinated man in New York. 

Yale pediatric infectious disease expert, Dr. Tom Murray, MD, Ph.D., said even though the polio vaccine is part of the series of shots routinely given in childhood, there are pockets of unvaccinated people in the United States.

“We need about 80% of individuals to be vaccinated for herd immunity,” Dr. Murray explained. "And while we have that across the entire population, there are areas where it's less than 80% and those groups are at risk."

Experts in New York have also found polio in the wastewater, which means the virus is present and people either have mild symptoms, such as fever, an upset stomach and aches, or no symptoms at all.

Dr. Murray noted that there is no cure for polio, so prevention is key. He recommends parents make sure their kids are up-to-date on their scheduled vaccines since the polio shot is given in four separate doses between the ages of two months and six years.

Health experts said most adults received the polio vaccine as children and should not need to be vaccinated. However, the CDC recommends adults who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated receive the polio vaccination. Health experts said it is very rare to get paralytic polio if you are vaccinated.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Ann Sterling at ann.sterling@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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