Polio is circulating in New York, raising fears in California that the viral disease may next spread to the West Coast.
A case confirmed in New York in July was the first in nearly a decade, and officials said that finding one case could indicate that there are hundreds more.
On Friday, the virus was found in New York City wastewater, alarming officials further.
If polio arrives in L.A., it will likely show up in local wastewater here, making facilities like Pat-Chem Laboratories in San Fernando vital to public health.
Officials are considering launching a testing program for poliovirus in Southern California wastewater.
“One of our field techs goes out and sets the sample up, then comes back 24 hours later. That sample is then tested,” said Stephen Berentsen, lab general manager of Pat-Chem.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Suman Radhakrishna said it’s possible people in the Southland have already been infected.
“If it’s in one part of the country, it can very likely be everywhere else,” Radhakrishna said.
One item of major concern: children who missed vaccinations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They’re going back to school and that’s a problem,” he said.
About 95% of all California children are fully vaccinated, so parents don’t need to panic, but they should be aware, doctors said.
The symptoms of polio include fever, sore throat, headache, and pain or stiffness.
Paralysis, which famously put President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a wheelchair and thousands of people in “iron lungs,” is relatively rare, occurring in about 1 of 200 cases.
Still, Dr. Radhakrishna called the resurgence of polio “worrisome,” noting that it is “a completely preventable disease.”
“The vaccine is safe. It’s been around for decades. If someone is not vaccinated, it’s a good time to vaccinate,” he said.
For information on polio vaccines, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.
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