Polio has been detected in New York City wastewater, according to health officials.

The virus, which took the lives of many before the vaccine was developed in the 1950s, is known to cause permanent paralysis and is transmitted through ingesting contaminated food or water.

“For every one case of paralytic polio identified, hundreds more may be undetected,” New York state health commissioner Mary Bassett said. ”The best way to keep adults and children polio-free is through safe and effective immunization.”

The vaccine has kept polio controlled over the years, and the U.S. was declared polio free in 1979, though travelers sometimes brought in cases. The concern for New York, however, is that fewer children in the city have been vaccinated against the disease recently.

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Some areas of the city, including Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brownsville report that fewer than 60% of children between the ages of 6 months to five years are fully vaccinated against polio, according to the Department of Health. Lower levels of vaccinated people open the door for a larger spread and worsening cases.

The COVID-19 pandemic effected the number of children who have been vaccinated, according to experts. New York schools are known to have some of the strictest vaccination requirements in the country, but since kids weren’t physically in school during the COVID crisis, fewer children got vaccinations. Parents were also taking their kids to the doctor less because of lockdowns.

“The risk to New Yorkers is real but the defense is so simple – get vaccinated against polio,” New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan said.

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