KEY POINTS
  • An unvaccinated adult suffered paralysis in June from polio, the first case in New York since 1990.
  • Wastewater surveillance later found the virus had been spreading silently in the New York City area for months.
  • The origin of the virus is still under investigation, but samples in New York are genetically linked to polioviruses found in London and Jerusalem wastewater.
A research assistant prepares a PCR reaction for polio at a lab at Queens College on August 25, 2022, in New York City.

When a young adult in a New York City suburb visited an emergency department in June after experiencing weakness in their lower legs, the shocking diagnosis would lead local officials to declare a health emergency in New York and put authorities across the U.S. and around the world on a state of alert.

The individual, a resident of Rockland County, had suffered from a fever, a stiff neck, back and abdominal pain as well as constipation for five days. The patient was hospitalized and tested for enterovirus, a family of pathogens that in rare cases can cause weakness in the arms and legs.