U.S. health officials will begin testing wastewater for poliovirus in select locations around the country, including possibly at sites in Michigan and Pennsylvania.
The testing will happen in communities that have low polio vaccination rates or those with possible connections to New York communities that are linked to a recent case of paralytic polio in Rockland, N.Y.
“Wastewater testing can be an important tool to help us understand if poliovirus may be circulating in communities in certain circumstances,” Dr. José Romero, director of the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a news release. “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.”
Both Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH) are among the first locations to explore plans for collecting wastewater samples that would be analyzed by the CDC's polio laboratory. The CDC has also started discussions with other state and local health departments.
MDHHS and PDPH are collaborating with the CDC to identify communities that are under-vaccinated for poliovirus and have wastewater sampling locations.
Testing is not routinely or broadly recommended and involves strict laboratory requirements, but strategic testing may help determine if poliovirus is present in other parts of the country.
This information could be used to target vaccination efforts and rapidly increase coverage if needed, the CDC said.
The collection won't identify who is infected or how many people or households have someone with the virus, just that someone in the community is shedding the virus. It can help with investigation of suspected polio cases.
Strains of poliovirus can be shed in a person's stool even if that person has no symptoms. This is a risk for unvaccinated people, though the overall risk to the public is low because 92% of Americans received polio vaccines in childhood, the CDC said.
Other factors, such as access to clean drinking water, modern sewage systems and wastewater management help prevent poliovirus from spreading.
The CDC noted that improving vaccination coverage, rapid reporting of cases and national surveillance are the keys to preventing additional cases of paralytic polio.
The World Health Organization has more on poliovirus.
SOURCE: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, news release, Nov. 30, 2022