History Of Polio

Thanks to extensive research, polio has all but been eradicated in the U.S. Here's the history of polio...

Today, it's difficult to imagine a disabled man as President of the United States, but if it happens, it would not be the first time. Franklin D. Roosevelt, President from 1932 to 1945, was a polio victim. He wore heavy steel braces on his legs and walking was difficult for him. Most of his time was spent in a wheelchair.

Roosevelt came down with poliomyelitis, or infantile paralysis in 1921, while vacationing at his Canadian summer house on Campobello Island. Prior to that time, he had been an active, athletic man who loved to sail and swim. The disease took its toll and paralyzed his legs.

A few years later he heard about a young man, also a polio victim, who had showed great improvement after swimming for several summers in a warm-water pool. The pool belonged to an old summer resort, the Meriwether Inn, in the small town of Warm Springs, Georgia. Intrigued, Roosevelt visited the inn. Although the pool held no magical properties, swimming in its warm water helped his weakened legs.

Other victims of polio were attracted to the pool and Roosevelt decided to turn the old inn into a center for the treatment of polio. He organized the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation, with himself as president and his law

partner, Basil O'Connor as treasurer. Most of those who came to the center were unable to pay for their treatment. So, Roosevelt and a small circle of friends provided the money to keep the center in operation.

In 1932, Roosevelt was elected President. The fact a man in the White House had been affected by the disease seemed to awake the public's interest. The trustees of the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation decided money could be raised for the foundation by holding dances in cities across the nation on the President's birthday, January 30. These became known as the President's Birthday Balls.

More money was raised than was needed for Warm Springs, so it was used for scientific research. In 1938, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis was organized and Basil O'Connor as president. Funds were raised annually through a campaign called the March of Dimes.

The foundation was able to make millions of dollars available to finance research in the leading universities and medical schools around the nation. This research led, step by step, to victory over polio.

It was known in 1938 that polio was caused by a virus. One of the first questions to answer was whether polio was caused by just one particular virus or if there was more than one kind of virus. Research on this question took several years. But it was finally proved there are just three strains or types of virus that cause the ailment. This gave hope a vaccine could be made to prevent polio.

Further studies showed antibodies against polio are formed in the blood of the victim. That's why a person who has suffered an attack by one strain of virus is immune to that strain thereafter.

After more work it became apparent that a vaccine for the prevention of polio could be produced. Dr. Jonas E. Salk, a young medical scientist at the University of Pittsburgh, undertook the task. Salk grew all three types of the virus in test tubes, on tissues from the kidneys of monkeys. A solution called Mixture 199, which contained sixty-three different substances including vitamins and minerals, was added to the tissue to feed the virus. In a few days, the virus had multiplied more than a million times. The viruses were then killed with a solution of formaldehyde. Finally, the vaccine was made by mixing together the three strains of dead viruses.

After animal tests, the vaccine was given to children who had suffered previous attacks of polio. Blood samples were analyzed before and after the shots. It was found the vaccine increased the amount of antibodies in their blood.

Early in 1953, when Dr. Salk was certain the vaccine was both safe and effective, he gave shots of it to about 160 children and adults in Pittsburgh, including his own three children.

As a result of these test, five of the large drug manufacturers in the U.S. began producing the Salk vaccine. In 1954, a large-scale test known as a "field trial," was begun. The vaccine was administered to over 400,000 children in the U.S.

The success of this program indicated the world at last had a vaccine the prevent the crippling disease of polio. As a result of widespread inoculation programs, the incidence of polio in the U.S. dropped by 90 percent by 1960. From an average of 38,000 cases per year during the time between 1950 and 1955, the average fell to 570 cases for the years 1961 through 1965.

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