Thursday, March 26, 2020

Remembering Polio

Up until now, smallpox is the only infectious disease we have ever eliminated. But the world is well on its way of eradicating polio. On Oct. 24, 2019, World Polio Day, WHO announced there were only 94 cases of wild polio in the world. Unfortunately due to the security problems and conflicts, progress has stalled in ending the disease.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the polio virus arrived each summer, striking without warning. No one knew how polio was transmitted or what caused it. There was no known cure or vaccine. Before a vaccine was available, polio caused more than 15,000 cases of paralysis a year in the U.S. It was the most feared disease of the 20th centuryIn 1952, the number of polio cases in the U.S. peaked at 57,879, resulting in 3,145 deaths. Those who survived this highly infectious disease could end up with some form of paralysis, forcing them to use crutches, wheelchairs or to be put into an iron lung, a large tank respirator that would pull air in and out of the lungs, allowing them to breathe.

Ultimately, poliomyelitis was conquered in 1955 by a vaccine developed by Jonas Salk and his team at the University of Pittsburgh. Jonas Salk became one of the most celebrated scientists in the world.

He refused a patent for his work, saying the vaccine belonged to the people and that to patent it would be like “patenting the Sun.” Leading drug manufacturers made the vaccine available, and more than 400 million doses were distributed between 1955 and 1962, reducing the cases of polio by 90 percent. By the end of the century, the polio scare had become a faint memory.

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