I spent part of last week in polio meetings in Evanston, my former home just north of Chicago. The days were cold and rainy; the polio experts, warm and informative. Yes, poliovirus in New York and London was mentioned, but not a major topic. Here’s why:
Poliovirus transmission in New York is a shock. Polio hasn’t been endemic here since 1979. Unfortunately, low vaccination rates allow a risk of such outbreaks—even in under-vaccinated pockets within the generally well protected U.S. and U.K.
From a global perspective, similar outbreaks in parts of Africa have been stopped despite greater challenges of poverty and sanitation. Polio will be stopped in New York, too. We may see other outbreaks until poliovirus is gone from Pakistan and Afghanistan, the final endemic countries. I suspect the main significance of polio in New York, beyond the individual sadly paralyzed, is the wake-up call to Americans. Vaccination matters. The virus is only a plane ride away.
Image: India, polio-free since 2011, immunizes children to protect against virus from abroad.
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I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.