polio were early health scares
By NATALIE HESS
"When my mother was a young
lady, scarlet fever was around. I remember her telling about
how she had neighbors with scarlet fever, and she would buy groceries
for them. The neighbors had to bring their money outside, hang
it on a clothesline and pour hot water over it," tells Mary
Squier, a woman who worked at McCray Memorial Hospital for nearly
45 years. "This was before 1914."
From November 1978 to November 1993, Squier served as the
director of medical records at McCray. She remembers hearing
about early-century scares like typhoid fever, influenza and
scarlet fever. The scare that lives in her memory most is polio.
"With the polio vaccines, there was a shot, then a sugar
cube that you took orally," Squier says. "Now you don't
hear about it."
Polio was a disease that left victims on crutches, in wheelchairs
or lying immobile in giant iron lungs. Polio was spread by the
"fecal-oral" route, common for microbial infection.
The virus was found in areas where raw sewage entered a watershed
without treatment, in rivers, lakes and streams. A susceptible
person who drank from one of these sources invited the virus
into his or her digestive tract.
After surviving the acids of the stomach, polio infected the
cells lining the intestines. Each round of application produced
thousands of new virus particles carried through the intestines
and then released into the sewage system to start the cycle again.
In addition to untreated drinking water, polio appeared to
spread through contact, especially among children whose hands
Noble County public health nurse Brenda Patton remembers polio
definitely being a scare every summer when she was young.
"I remember we couldn't go swimming, go near water or
big groups in the summer during outbreaks," Patton recalls.
Patton remembers massage, heat therapy and President Franklin
Roosevelt, a polio victim who brought the disease into public
Polio was determined to be caused by a virus rather than a
bacteria in 1908 by Karl Landsteiner. Roosevelt contracted polio
in 1921, five years after the epidemic hit New York City and
sent thousands fleeing. Polio paralyzed Roosevelt's legs.
Warm Springs Foundation started making braces for polio victims
beginning in 1927. Vaccine trials for the disease began in 1935.
Of the 17,000 children who were vaccinated, 12 contracted polio.
In 1937, Edwin Shultz used a vaccine nasal spray on 5,000
children in Toronto. Several permanently lost their sense of
Sister Elizabeth Kenney began promoting hot packs and the
re-education of muscles as rehabilitation techniques in 1940.
Three years later a successful trial of killed-virus influenza
vaccine, developed by Jonas Salk and Thomas Francis, occurred.
Herald Cox and Hillary Kaprowski began live-virus polio vaccine
research in 1946. Five years later the National Foundation paid
$14.5 million to test gamma globulin as a possible defense against
polio. Unlike the Salk shots, given in the arm, and the Sabin
vaccine, given orally, the gamma globulin was given in the buttocks.
The shot prevented many communicable diseases in addition to
In 1952 monkeys were at the center of polio research. The
virus could only be cultivated for scientific research within
live monkeys. At this time Salk tested the killed-virus vaccine.
Salk's killed-virus polio vaccine was declared 90 percent effective
and safe in 1955.
A year later Dr. Alber Sabin worked on a live-virus polio
vaccine. In 1961 the American Medical Association endorsed the
use of Sabin's oral vaccine. Upon the adoption of the Sabin vaccine,
everyone in America was called back for immunization.
The threat of polio has decreased since mid-century advancements
against the virus. Just as typhoid fever and scarlet fever have
fizzled out as health scares, so has polio.