7 notes on what to do if you suspect a patient has polio

The CDC released guidelines for clinicians on how to handle suspected polio cases.

The guidelines, which were last updated Aug. 10, provide a road map for clinicians to follow when encountering a patient with a probable case. The CDC defines a probable case of polio as "an acute onset of flaccid paralysis of one or more limbs with decreased or absent tendon reflexes in the affected limbs, without other apparent cause, and without sensory or cognitive loss." 

New York reported the first case of the virus in the U.S. in nearly a decade July 21. Wastewater samples have detected the virus in three counties and New York City, suggesting local circulation. 

No cases have been reported in other states, but health officials are urging people nationwide to get vaccinated, as immunization rates lag in some areas.

Seven things to know: 

  • Only clinicians completely vaccinated against polio should attend to the patient.

  • Polio should be considered in patients with polio-like symptoms, especially if the patient is unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, recently traveled abroad where polio still occurs or was exposed to an individual who recently traveled to an area where it still occurs. 

  • Good hand hygiene should be conducted in a suspected polio case, and contact precautions should be exercised in patient interactions.

  • The patient should be evaluated for flaccid weakness and clinicians should document tone, reflexes and muscle strength.

  • Clinicians should contact state or local health departments immediately to report a patient with suspected poliomyelitis.

  • Clinicians should work with state and local health departments to order poliovirus testing, which is conducted through stool and throat specimen samples.

  • If questions arise, clinicians should contact the CDC Emergency Operations Center at 770-488-7100.

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