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A Brief Polio History

The following are a few things I found on Polio that seemed interesting, but I did have the disease also. Before you quote anything, you had better find a confirmation. I do not think my long term memory has started to fail due to MS, but sometimes I reach for a logical conclusion that could be just a 'reach'


Poliomyelitis, Polio, is caused by a virus which results in an acute infection of the nerve cells. The nerve cells get damaged causing loss of muscle control. AND it is initially painful. I remember the pain even though I was only three.

There are common symptoms of an acute attack.

There is a high correlation between Polio outbreaks and sanitary conditions. Also, epidemics occurred in the summer months, between May and August. This lead people to believe it was transmitted by summer activities thus forcing the closing of thousands of public swimming pools and other summer get together areas. However, no one really knows how Polio enters the body then the spinal cord. I personally know two sets of identical twins who did everything together but only one of the twins got Polio.

Most people who got Polio never knew it. They would have a summer time fever, a mild headache and some muscle stiffness but no paralysis. Thus it was called the non-paralytic form. Some other adults may remember these as side effects from the live virus Salk vaccine.

Polio was/is one of the most feared diseases, comparable to AIDS fear, because it is the only common disease which results in the paralysis of previously health children. There is no cure for Polio but we now have prevention.
If you are a parent, please remember to have your child vaccinated, for Polio may never completely disappear. It's affects can be horrible.

There were Polio epidemics before recorded history. In Egypt stone carving depict children with obvious effects of the disease. These carving date back to 1500 b.c.

The first clinical description of the disease was in a British medical essay written in the late 1700's. It wasn't until 1840 when a German physician recorded the detailed effects of Polio. The first recorded cases in the U.S. happened in Vermont, 1894, with 184 documented cases.

With the development of better microscopes the virus was finally identified in 1908 by two Austrian physicians. Then in 1909 Mass. became the first state to begin counting cases.

There have been a number of large outbreaks of Polio in the U.S. One was in 1916. The total number of cases is unknown but over 9,000 were reported in New York City alone. There was another in 1934. The Los Angles County Hospital treated 2,500 cases between May and November of that year. In 1952 the U.S. reported 58,000 new cases of Polio.

Probably the most famous Polio victim (other than myself) was Franklin Roosevelt, FDR. He was stricken in 1921. FDR visited Warm Springs, Georgia in 1924 to use the natural warm mineral waters for treatment. He purchased property there and in 1926 started the Warm Springs Foundation for the treatment of disabled children. Warm Springs, Georgia became FDR's second home and it was there he died in 1945. Not diminishing his global impact, FDR had two major positive effects for Polio victims. One was how he influenced the public attitude toward the diseased and disabled. The other was the example he lived, showing that you didn't have to have legs to be the most powerful man in the world.

World War II delayed the fight against Polio. Then in 1947 Jonas Salk , ex-army, began his research into the disease. In late 1953 his team reported startling results with a vaccine made from live but weakened Polio virus. In 1954 the vaccine was tested in the biggest medical study in history. It involved 2,000,000 volunteer children across the U.S. Due to the expense a study of this scale will probably never be repeated. The results were so good the Salk vaccine was approved for mass distribution in April 1955. Older cyber surfers can probably remember standing in line at school to get a Polio shot.

Through all of this, Sabin was developing a different vaccine. The Salk vaccine used live virus and was injected into the blood stream. The Sabin vaccine used a dead virus and was taken orally on a sugar cube, a definite improvement for kids. The vaccine had trials in 1958 and 1959. It was also approved for distribution. Together the two vaccines dealt a mighty blow to Polio.

1952 Polio cases reported 58,000
1953 ... 35,000
1957 ... 5,600
1964 ... 121

Since 1991 there have been NO reported wild virus Polio cases in the Western Hemisphere.

However, the fat lady still has not sung. In 1993 there were 100,000 cases reported worldwide. The target for total elimination of Polio is the year 2000 by the World Health Organization.

There is more to the story. It is estimated that there are 400,000 Polio survivors in the U.S. and more than 10,000,000 worldwide. These people continue to face the late effects of Polio commonly called Post-Polio Syndrome.

This condition involves an unexpected decay and loss of function by previous Polio survivors. It seems to happen approximately 30 years after acute Polio and is more common to those who contracted Polio after the age of 10. It does not seem to matter whether or not the initial attack was severe or light. It is estimated that between 20% to 40% of the survivors will experience Post-Polio Syndrome.

It took a while for Post Polio to show up. In 1974 Dr. Donald Mulder of the Mayo Clinic wrote an article on Late Progression of Poliomyelitis. Polio survivors already knew something was happening and continued to ask the medical community questions through the 70's. Yet doctors were treating them for everything except Polio. Since Polio had been 'eliminated' it was not considered and most of the new doctors knew nothing about the disease.

Public awareness began in 1981 when Time Magazine reported 600,000 were sitting on a time bomb, referring to Polio survivors. In 1984 the First Research Conference on the Late Effects of Poliomyelitis was held at Warm Springs, Georgia. The presentations and documented cases proved without doubt that Post-Polio was real.

[As a side note, research "indicated" there is no relation between Post-Polio and MS or ALS.]


Common Post-Polio Symptoms

1. excessive fatigue
2. new joint and muscle pain
3. progressive muscle weakness
4. new or increased breathing difficulty
5. cold intolerance

If you are an MSer, you can see why a Polio survivor with MS can get a little confused.


Research into Post-Polio Syndrome continued through the 80's and early 90's but that research is running out of steam and may not continue much longer. It is simply economics. The youngest survivors like me are approaching 50 and our number is now below 400,000 in the U.S.


Nevertheless, I am happy that I got it and not my children.


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