Minnesota death may be related to polio vaccine

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State health officials announced that polio may have played a role in the death of a Minnesotan last month. They are urging all parents to make sure that their children have up-to-date vaccinations.

The person who died (the name has not been released) had a weakened immune system and other health problems, and Minnesota Department of Health officials say they don't know what role polio played in the death. It appears likely that the person contracted polio from someone who had received an oral polio vaccine nine years ago, when a live strain of polio was part of the vaccination. Since 2000, the vaccines have used only an inactive strain of the disease.

Health officials stressed that the general public is not at risk of contracting polio. Only health workers who had direct contact with this particular patient may be at risk.

This is only the second detected case of polio in the nation since 2000. The other case was also in Minnesota, in a child who had not been vaccinated against polio. Epidemiologists say that the two cases have been discovered in Minnesota because of special attention paid to deaths -- not because the risk of the disease is greater here.

"We are working closely with our local and national partners to investigate this case," said Minnesota State Epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield. "It's important to note that while there is no risk to the general public, many people still have vivid memories of a time when polio was a major public health concern before the first vaccines were introduced in the 1950s. This is a very rare occurrence and does not signal a resurgence of polio."

In other words, there is no need to panic.

"Only unvaccinated people or people with deficient immune systems who have had direct, ungloved contact with the patient's bodily secretions are at any risk for disease," said Dr. Aaron DeVries, Medical Epidemiologist at MDH. Health officials will follow up with health care workers to make sure their immunizations are up to date and they are showing no signs of disease. "If you don't hear from a public health or health care official, you're not at risk," DeVries said.