Getting Answers: Baystate doctor concerned over spread of polio cases

With the polio virus detected in wastewater in New York, a doctor at Baystate is sharing his concern for people in western Massachusetts.
Published: Sep. 9, 2022 at 12:24 PM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - With the polio virus detected in wastewater in New York, a doctor at Baystate is sharing his concern for people in western Massachusetts.

“This is not something that only happened in the 1950s. This is something that happened in July in Rockland County two hours away and it’s not worth the risk,” said Dr. John O’Reilly, chief of pediatrics at Baystate Health.

Western Mass News is digging deeper into concerns about polio in western Massachusetts after a confirmed case in the Hudson Valley in New York and other evidence of the virus in wastewater in the state.

We reached out to O’Reilly to get answers about his concerns.

“It used to be the most dreaded childhood illness and before the vaccinations, kids would be paralyzed…It seemed to go in the history book and people sort of forgot them as a serious illness because we did such a good job vaccinating,” O’Reilly noted.

However, he said with people traveling around, especially after COVID-19 swept the world, he’s worried.

“Unfortunately, we are now a global society, so viral illnesses, such as COVID, are just a plane ride away…Those folks can be asymptomatic and passing it. That’s when I worry what will happen in western Mass.,” O’Reilly explained.

He’s also concerned about mutations.

“In the U.S., since 2000, we have been giving injectable polio vaccines that protect against polio, but can’t spread at any sort of viruses around to other people…In other parts of the world, because it’s cheap and effective and easy it is to give, they use oral polio vaccines and with those vaccines, there is always a risk that that the weakened virus that we give as a vaccine can mutate like COVID mutated and become spreadable,” O’Reilly said.

O’Reilly told us the polio virus can be spread through coughing or saliva, but 75-percent of the cases are asymptomatic. He said symptoms for the other 25-percent include fever, headaches and diarrhea.

O’Reilly’s advice for parents is “I want parents out there that are like ‘Eh, I didn’t go to the pediatrician during the pandemic because I was worried’…I want them to think ‘Did my child get the polio vaccine?’ If there is a question, call your pediatrician’s office,” O’Reilly added.

The Centers for Disease Control and Protection recommends that children get four doses of the polio vaccine by the age of six.