Chicago Department of Public Health to Test Wastewater for Polio

By Gary Parker, The Chicago Times

March 17, 2023

CHICAGO – The Chicago Department of Public Health announced today that it will expand its existing wastewater surveillance program to include testing for poliovirus.  

CDPH said wastewater testing began this week to analyze water samples collected from area reclamation plants that serve the City of Chicago and surrounding Cook County suburbs.  The surveillance program is partnership between CDPH and the University of Illinois Chicago, the Regional Innovative Public Health Laboratory at Rush University Medical Center, the University of Illinois System’s Discovery Partner Institute, the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

As part of this surveillance, wastewater samples will be collected on a routine basis and laboratory testing to see if poliovirus is present in area wastewater.

It should be noted, while no case of paralytic polio has been identified in Chicago or Illinois at this time, CDPH is proactively building its local capacity to detect and respond to any potential cases of polio.

“Polio has been eradicated in the US since 1979; however, a recent case in 2022 in New York State highlights the importance of rapid detection to interrupt any new outbreaks and strengthen routine immunization, which is the best national defense against polio.” said CDPH Deputy Commissioner Massimo Pacilli.  

Polio can lead to permanent paralysis of the arms and legs and can be fatal due to paralysis in the muscles used to breathe or swallow.  Symptoms include sore throat, fever, tiredness, nausea, and stomach pain.  According to CDPH, 1 in 25 people with poliovirus infection will get meningitis and about 1 in 200 will become paralyzed.  Most people are vaccinated against polio during childhood in the United States and studies suggest people who completed their polio vaccination during childhood are likely protected throughout adulthood.