The Chicago Department of Public Health announced on Friday that it has begun monitoring the polio virus in wastewater.
No cases of polio have been identified in Chicago or Illinois, but the department said it is actively testing water from plants in the city and surrounding suburbs with several partner agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Polio has been considered eradicated in the United States since 1979, after the vaccine was introduced two decades earlier.
But one case of paralytic polio was identified in New York state in July 2022, and additional wastewater testing found poliovirus in New York counties with low vaccination rates.
The New York case “highlights the importance of rapid detection,” CDPH Deputy Commissioner Massimo Pacilli said in a news release.
New York health officials also issued an advisory last week asking all travelers to Israel to get full vaccinations after four children recently tested positive in northern Israel.
Most adults and children in Illinois are vaccinated against polio. The Illinois Department of Public Health, like health departments in many other states, requires children to be vaccinated against polio, among other diseases, in order to enroll in school and child care services.
Polio is a contagious disease for which there is no cure. It can infect a person’s spinal cord, causing paralysis, and before a vaccine became available it caused major public health scares, with tens of thousands of cases a year in the U.S., according to the CDC. Many of its victims were children. Among those paralyzed by polio was President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Local wastewater is already being monitored for the presence of COVID-19, which helped public health officials track the virus during the pandemic.