CDC Expands Wastewater Testing for Polioviruses

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is expanding testing to detect polioviruses in wastewater to select communities in Philadelphia and Michigan, the agency announced Wednesday.

The announcement comes months after the July discovery of the first polio case in the United States since 2013, in an unvaccinated man in Rockland County, New York. In September, New York Governor Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency after the virus was detected in wastewater samples in five New York counties. The statewide disaster emergency, which has been extended multiple times, is set to expire on December 8. So far, only the single case of paralytic polio in Rockland County has been detected.

“Wastewater testing will occur in certain counties with potentially low polio vaccination coverage, or counties with possible connections to the at-risk New York communities that are linked to a single case of paralytic polio in Rockland County, New York,” the CDC wrote in a statement. Most Americans — more than 92% — were vaccinated against polio during childhood, the CDC said, but communities with low vaccination rates can be more vulnerable to infection.

While wastewater data cannot identify individuals who are infected with poliovirus, the data can be used in collaboration with polio prevention plans, including swift investigations of suspected polio cases, the CDC added.

“Wastewater testing can be an important tool to help us understand if poliovirus may be circulating in communities in certain circumstances,” said José R. Romero, MD, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “Vaccination remains the best way to prevent another case of paralytic polio, and it is critically important that people get vaccinated to protect themselves, their families and their communities against this devastating disease.”

The agency is currently working with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health to identify communities for wastewater analysis and is in early talks with other states and local health departments, according to a press release. Testing will last at least 4 months in these selected communities.

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