Where Did It Come From? Poliovirus in New York's Wastewater


SUMMARY: An unvaccinated New York man tested positive for polio this summer, catching a strain of poliovirus that only comes from the vaccine. Local wastewater samples are popping up positive, too. This raises two questions: Where did this poliovirus come from, and what does it mean for the medical freedom movement?


By Rick Rydell


The last time an American had a case of polio, Barack Obama was still president, “twerk” and “selfie” were not in our everyday lexicon, and Oscar Pistorius was still a hero. Clearly a lot has changed since 2013. Yet here we are again: a New York resident has tested positive via a stool sample for poliovirus.


On July 21, 2022, New York’s Rockland County announced that a Jewish man in his 20s contracted paralytic polio. Although he had traveled to Poland and Hungary earlier in the year, health authorities said he could not have caught the disease in those nations, as it was outside the 21-day infection window before his symptoms appeared.


Furthermore, the man, though unvaccinated for polio, did not contract a wild type of polio. Instead, he became infected with a vaccine-derived type of poliovirus. Interestingly, this particular type of virus was garnered directly from the oral polio vaccine, and the United States hasn’t used that kind of vaccination for more than two decades.


And Then There Was One

A short history rewind is in order. There are two types of polio vaccines: a shot that uses an inactivated poliovirus (IPV), and an oral solution containing live poliovirus (OPV). Since 2000, the U.S. has only used the former. IPV cannot cause vaccine-derived polio, since it doesn’t contain the active virus.


By 2021, only 6 cases of wild-type poliovirus were reported worldwide. According to the CDC, however, there were 688 paralytic cases of vaccine-derived poliovirus reported. Therefore, while the actual poliovirus only infected a few individuals, the vaccine virus has infected over 100 times more people.


While progress has been made to lessen both wild-type and vaccine-derived poliovirus, the vaccine is creating far more polio cases than the initial, mutate-able virus itself. Sadly these cases are not always benign. Those vaccinated with the OPV run the risk of paralysis—one of the frightening symptoms people lining up to receive the polio vaccine were hoping to avoid in the first place. This risk is the main reason American health authorities stopped using the OPV.


Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is a science writer who lived with her family in West Africa. Their adopted country, she explained, still struggles with polio. Therefore, her entire family made sure they were all vaccinated. “It made sense for our family to get vaccinated against polio,” she said in an interview on August 31, 2002. “But if you are living in America, the polio vaccine seems to be doing more harm than good.”


The classic polio progression consists of fever, fatigue, muscle stiffness, headache, limb pain, and finally paralysis in most cases. The New Yorker still cannot walk but has started standing with difficulty. This happened due to the poliovirus vaccine, not from wild polio itself. In other words, an unvaccinated individual suffered serious physical debilitations from a vaccine strain of the disease the vaccine was supposed to prevent.


Dr. James Neuenschwander, an integrative medicine and emergency medicine specialist in Michigan said this during a phone interview on September 2, 2022:


“First and foremost, you have to realize this is a vaccine injury, and the infection was from a vaccine strain virus in circulation and not from the vaccine we use here. The vaccine we use does not prevent transmission.”


“If this is for real, the only way I could see this happening is if somebody got the shot, went to one of these countries where this [OPV] is in use, picked it up through fecal/oral transmission and then somehow this guy got exposed to it back here through the same manner.”

Testing the Waters

Since the Rockland case, the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) has been testing its wastewater for the poliovirus. They found 43 positive samples of concern in Rockland and Orange Counties, and 36 were genetically linked to the individual case. Every last one of them was vaccine-derived poliovirus.


“So where the hell did this come from?” Neuenschwander wondered. “Has this been circulating in the population for a year or more?”


The NYSDOH isn’t entirely sure, although some samples were polio-positive from as far back as April, 2022. Stated in a press release:


“These environmental findings provide evidence that the unvaccinated individual Rockland County resident with paralytic polio contracted the virus through local—not abroad or international—transmission and raise concerns about the potential for community spread of poliovirus that can cause paralysis in these communities… New Yorkers should know that these environmental findings do not indicate that the individual in Rockland County was the source of the transmission, and case investigation into the origin of the virus is ongoing."


Other countries are experiencing similar situations; the United Kingdom and Israel have also discovered polio in their wastewater in recent months. Other American cities, meanwhile, have taken note and started testing or plan to test their own wastewater for poliovirus.


Some physicians think the New York case is just the beginning. “I think you're gonna see over the next weeks more and more reports of poliovirus in wastewater elsewhere," said Vincent Racaniello, Ph.D., a virologist at Columbia University.


Predictably, the NYSDOH has taken the Rockland case as an opportunity to call for higher vaccination rates, especially in communities with lower coverage like Rockland and Orange Counties. This story has a religious component, too, as Hasidic Jewish communities, like the one the Rockland man hails from, often vaccinate their children at below-average rates.


But if NYSDOH has only tested as far back as the spring, how do they know that poliovirus hasn’t been circulating among Americans for even longer?


Especially when one considers that polio is one of the most common vaccines (93% of American kindergarteners had received the IPV in the 2020/2021 school year) and that vaccinated people can still pass along the virus, might there be far more “polio people” than health officials initially thought? After all, about three in four people with the disease are asymptomatic, and even if they do show symptoms, they are often like the flu.


Until the nation’s municipal and healthcare authorities start testing for polio everywhere on a consistent basis, as some experts have called for, we have no absolute way to confirm or deny.


Some doctors have been sounding the call for mass polio testing for years, including Racaniello:


“Ten years ago, I said to the CDC, you should really be looking in the sewage for poliovirus because of this issue where it could come in from overseas and be in our sewage," he told MedPage Today. “If someone is unvaccinated, that would be a threat to them, but [the CDC] never did it."


Future Implications

Dr. Neuenschwander has no definitive answers on the New York man, of course. What he does have are questions—lots of them.


What was this man’s medical story? Could this be a misdiagnosis, since both his blood and spinal culture came back negative for polio?


Why didn’t they polio-test everyone at the large gathering where health authorities guessed the man contracted the vaccine-induced strain? What were their recent travel histories?


If it’s been here for months at the bare minimum, if not longer, then why are we just now seeing a single man get it? If polio—either wild or vaccine-induced—is such a danger to the unvaccinated, then why haven’t we seen more polio cases among that population, including the man’s close contacts?


“Go to the CDC and read what they have to say,” Neuenschwander advised. “Go over everything with a critical eye and start asking questions.” He hopes that more states start testing for poliovirus, especially since so many are now testing for COVID-19 in their wastewater.


The doctor called this isolated case a writing on the wall moment, as he exclaimed during the interview:


“They’re going to use it as another example, as in, ‘Those dang anti-vaxxers are gonna put everyone at risk,’” he said. “Now there’s polio in the water supply, but it’s a vaccine strain, so you guys created it.”


“This guy got vaccinated without his knowledge and got polio from it. That’s even worse.”


Knowledge is Golden

To stay on top of this topic: Ask questions and refrain from panicking about the poliovirus. Look at the mortality rates of polio vs. the rates of a risky activity, such as driving a car, and make your decisions accordingly. Brush up on hand washing techniques with your children and family, as polio is passed through the fecal/oral route rather than respiration. Research the history of polio, or talk to someone who experienced it as a child. Above all, study the issue at hand and determine your own risk assessment, rather than letting any media outlet think for you.




Published on September 08, 2022


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