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New York State Health Commissioner warns of possible polio outbreak

Dr. Howard Zucker, the New York State Health Commissioner, cautioned Thursday that the single polio case identified in the state this month may be just “the tip of the iceberg,” with hundreds more people infected.

The statement comes after authorities found traces of the poliovirus in a sample of wastewater in New York City.

“Based on earlier polio outbreaks, New Yorkers should know that for every one case of paralytic polio observed, there may be hundreds of other people infected,” Bassett warned in a Thursday statement. “Coupled with the latest wastewater findings, the Department is treating the single case of polio as just the tip of the iceberg of much greater potential spread. As we learn more, what we do know is clear: the danger of polio is present in New York today.”

Polio is a highly contagious viral infection that can cause paralysis, respiratory failure, and even death. There is no cure for the disease, which primarily affects children under the age of five.

The last case of polio reported in the United States was in 1979. However, the disease remains endemic in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan.

Earlier this month, a four-year-old child from Brooklyn was diagnosed with the polio-like illness called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM). The child had not been vaccinated against the poliovirus.

Authorities are urging all New Yorkers, especially children, to get vaccinated against the disease.

“The best way to protect yourself and your family from polio is to get vaccinated,” Bassett said. “I urge all New Yorkers, particularly parents of young children, to ensure that their kids are up-to-date on their vaccinations.”

The New York State Department of Health offers free polio vaccinations for children under the age of 18. For adults, the vaccine is available through most health insurance plans.

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