Health Headlines: The return of polio

Start your day with 7 News Sunrise
Published: Dec. 2, 2022 at 7:24 AM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - Federal officials are now stepping up to monitor and fight the spread of polio, a paralyzing disease that can spread to those not vaccinated against it.

If you’re 70 or older, you’ll remember the images of machines called iron lungs, designed to keep polio patients breathing.

Dr. Tom Murray, an infectious disease expert at Yale Pediatric, explains, “Before the polio vaccine, polio was a very scary disease.”

But now, decades after Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was approved for use, the disease is making headlines again. This summer, health experts identified one case of paralytic polio in an unvaccinated man in New York. Dr. Murray says even though the polio vaccine is part of a series of shots routinely given in childhood, there are pockets of unvaccinated people in the U.S.

“We need about 80% of individuals to be vaccinated for herd immunity. And while we have that, kind of, 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 are either having mild symptoms like fever, an upset stomach, aches, or possibly no symptoms at all.

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

Experts say most adults received the vaccine as children, and should not need to be vaccinated. However, the CDC recommends adults who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, talk to their doctors about receiving the full vaccine.