Polio detected in New York City wastewater; Health officials taking extra precautions

Parviz Parhami was 2 years old when he got polio. 

When heard about wastewater samples in New York that discovered polio in that water and heard about a confirmed case of a young adult he was alarmed "because it could spread." 

"It's not a pleasant disease," Parhami said. "A lot of people died when the disease advances and gets high enough to your lungs and so forth."

Parhami uses a wheelchair because polio paralyzed his legs as a child. Now at 69, he says he got polio when there was fear about a bad batch of vaccine in Iran that was giving kids polio.

Here in LA County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer says the department is working to figure out "If there's an opportunity for targeted monitoring in some communities where there might be higher reason for concern."

LA County Public Health says as of this last week, this county had not been testing for polio in wastewater but Ferrer has been in meetings trying to determine what needs to be done and promised more information next week.

The thing about polio is it isn't always obvious Dr. Nathan Newman says. 

"About 75% of people have no idea they've been infected. About 25% will flu-like symptoms just like any other viral infection and about 1% will experience some paralysis," he said.

Decades ago before polio was controlled by vaccines, iron lungs were used on children who needed help breathing because polio would cause paralysis of their diaphragms.

Back in the 1950s, school students got vaccines on sugar cubes and vaccines wiped out a lot of this. But, it's always been around and affected largely the unvaccinated, according to Dr. Newman who says it's spread through fecal matter.

"Maybe a toy; maybe on somebody's hands after using the restroom," Newman said.

This is why washing our hands is so important. Health officials say the virus also can spread through droplets from an infected person's cough or sneeze, though that is less common.