Dr. Jonas Salk Announces a Polio Vaccine, 65 Years Ago
The awful 2017-2018 flu season is a reminder that some dreaded diseases still remain unconquered. Among these, of course, is the influenza
virus, which circles the globe and is easily transmissible.
But thankfully, at least one disease has been nearly eradicated, and the fight against it started 65 years ago.
In the U.S. in 1952, 58,000 people came down with paralytic polio
, resulting in 3,145 deaths--1,873 of them children--and more than 21,000 individuals left with varying degrees of permanent paralysis.
Poliomyelitis, known as polio, is the inflammation of the gray matter of the spinal cord. Its clinical symptoms are varied--fever, malaise, drowsiness, headache, nausea, vomiting, constipation or sore throat in various combinations.
Certainly, the most famous polio victim was Franklin D. Roosevelt
, who overcame this disease to serve three terms as president of the U.S.
But on March 26, 1953, American medical researcher Dr. Jonas Salk announced on a national radio show that he successfully tested a vaccine against poliomyelitis.
On April 12, 1955, the success of a massive clinical trial of his new polio vaccine was announced. One million American children had been vaccinated
during the previous 12 months, half of them with Jonas Salk's vaccine, half of them with a placebo, and the vaccine had proved to be 80 to 90 percent effective.
Salk's chief nemesis was Dr. Albert Sabin
, a scientist at the University of Cincinnati who had been researching polio since the 1920s. His own vaccine
would eventually replace Salk's in the early 1960s, though the nation would return to Salk's version in 2000.
The new vaccines showed their power immediately. U.S. polio infections
peaked at over 50,000 in 1952, then dropped to just 61 in 1965, and to zero in 1979.
As recently as the 1980s, an estimated 350,000 in 125 countries people came down with polio each year. Today, polio is confined to just three countries: Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
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