Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Fifty years ago...

Fifty years ago, in April of 1955, it was announced that Dr. Jonas Salk and his research team had developed a polio vaccine that was "safe, effective and potent." This announcement came after decades of springtime polio outbreaks that left many children unable to walk or without use of their arms and many others dead.

In the spring of 1916 the nation's worst polio outbreak swept across the country. Over 27,000 people are known to have been stricken with the virus in that year. Signs carrying this warning were placed outside homes where the virus had invaded:

All persons not occupants of these premises are advised of the presence of Infantile Paralysis in it and are advised not to enter. The person having Infantile Paralysis must not leave the apartment until the removal of this notice by an employee of the Department of Health.

Many public activities were cancelled that summer and in New York City children under the age of sixteen were banned from all places where large crowds gathered. When it was all over 6,000 children died that year from the effects of polio.

It is amazing to think that only fifty years have passed since polio was a yearly terror for parents and children alike. I can not begin to imagine what is was like to know that each spring a deadly disease affecting thousands of children across the country, was surely on its way.

If you are interested in learning more, here are some links to more information:

Smithsonian Museum Exhibit

Smithsonian Magazine

Jonas Salk