At its height, polio haunted American families across the country. The disease seemed to spread easily among children. It caused paralysis, severe breathing difficulties and, in some cases, death.
“In the late 1940s, polio outbreaks in the [United States] increased in frequency and size, disabling an average of more than 35,000 people each year. Parents were frightened to let their children go outside, especially in the summer when the virus seemed to peak,” according to information on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Travel and commerce between affected cities were sometimes restricted. Public health officials imposed quarantines (used to separate and restrict the movement of well people who may have been exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become ill) on homes and towns where polio cases were diagnosed.”
The World Health Organization reports that one in 200 cases of polio infection leads to irreversible paralysis. Among those stricken with paralysis, between 5% and 10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilized.
One of the first alarming spikes in the number of polio cases in the United States occurred in 1916. A total of 27,363 cases were reported along with 7,310 deaths, according to an article on the website for Our World in Data. This was a dramatic increase from the 1,634 total cases and 691 deaths reported in 1915.
The rate of polio began to increase sharply again in the United States in the mid-1920s. This number jumped from 2,837 cases in 1926 to 10,533 cases in 1927. The number of polio cases then moved and down for the next few years, rising to 15,790 in 1931.
There were 1,712 cases in 1938, 7,343 cases in 1939 and 9,826 cases in 1940. This number dropped to 4,033 cases in 1942. But then another spike took place over the next decade.
In 1952, there were 57,879 cases of polio reported in the United States. This resulted in 3,145 deaths.
Research had begun to identify a way to protect people from this disease. Dr. Jonas Salk offered a vaccine, and a trial of the immunization was rolled out in 1953.
The drive to eradicate polio was on.
This effort has worked tremendously. While reported cases of polio in the United States are extremely rare, they still occur in other nations.
Cases of polio are still being reported in Afghanistan and Pakistan, so efforts continue there to wipe the disease out.
Rotary International is one of the organizations worldwide striving to eliminate polio. Rotary is a founding partner of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. This campaign has worked to eradicate polio worldwide for 35 years, reducing the number of cases by 99.9% since 1978.
One case of polio was reported last year in Rockland County, located just north of New York City; this involved a young adult. According to the state Department of Health, 79.1% of 2-year-olds throughout New York have been vaccinated. About 60.5% of Rockland County’s 2-year-olds were vaccinated for polio when this case was identified.
Vaccines work, and people should make sure their children are properly immunized. This will help ensure that no new cases of polio are reported in the United States moving forward.
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.