What Patients With Cancer Should Know About Polio
In late July, public health officials in New York reported that an unvaccinated person had tested positive for polio, marking the first case of the disease in the U.S. in nearly a decade. Weeks later, the virus was detected in New York City’s wastewater system, an indication of the virus’s spread among unvaccinated people.
If you’re a patient with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) or another type of cancer, you may be wondering if it’s necessary to get a booster shot for polio or if there are any extra precautions you should take to safeguard yourself. Thankfully, if you’ve already received the recommended inoculations for polio – as most Americans receive during childhood – you likely have little to worry about.
“If it's not in your community, you likely don't need to worry,” said Kerry Rogers, MD, hematologist-oncologist at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center in Columbus. “The odds of getting polio are not as high for adults, even immunocompromised adults.”
However, if you live in a community where the virus is spreading, Dr. Rogers recommends talking to your health care provider for advice specific to you.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hasn’t issued new guidelines for poliovirus boosters. Current guidelines allow for a one-time booster shot if a person is at an increased risk of contact with poliovirus and have previously completed a polio vaccination series.
For patients with other cancers, a polio booster may be necessary in certain circumstances. For example, it’s recommended that patients get revaccinated for polio six months after a stem cell transplant. That’s because patients can lose protection from the virus following the procedure.
Revaccination and polio booster shots are also safe. All poliovirus vaccines currently administered in the United States contain an inactive form of the virus, so there is no risk of unintended viral infection.
The poliovirus typically enters through the mouth, often from hands contaminated with fecal matter from a person infected with the virus, according to the CDC. Though less common, the virus can also spread through saliva and respiratory droplets when a person sneezes or coughs.
Polio also tends to inflict the worst symptoms onto children, including risk of life-threatening disease and permanent paralysis. Unvaccinated adults also can unknowingly spread the disease without ever developing symptoms.
Because of how polio spreads, the risks for contracting polio are typically highest for household contacts, Dr. Rogers noted. “It's not like COVID where you can walk through an airport and now you have it,” she said. Still, Dr. Rogers stressed that families should ensure they and their children are up to date with polio inoculations.