Polio, also called poliomyelitis (POH lee oh MY uh LY tihs) or infantile paralysis, is a contagious disease caused by a virus. The disease attacks the nerve cells of the brain and spinal cord, and in a few cases it can cause paralysis. Fortunately, almost no one gets it any longer if they live in the Western Hemisphere.
Before the 1950ís, people
had many reasons to fear polio, especially because it was a fairly common
disease. At the height of the polio
epidemic in 1952, there were nearly 60,000 cases and over 3,000 deaths
were reported in the United States alone. Some
of the reasons people feared polio were because people's muscles could became so stiff and weak
that they were paralyzed or needed help breathing. If polio does cause
paralysis, the patient may never be able to walk.
However, infection by a polio virus doesn't always end up in severe
illness. In fact, most people who get polio do not become paralyzed.
Some people show only mild symptoms, such as fever, vomiting, headache,
and sore throat. The symptoms may disappear after about a day. There
was no way to prevent this disease until Dr. Jonas Salk created a vaccine.
There are two polio
vaccines. Both of them help prevent the three types of polio viruses.
Dr. Salkís vaccine was a shot. The other one was made by Albert B. Sabin.
Dr. Sabinís vaccine is an oral vaccine Ė that means you can
take it by your mouth.
Things have changed since the 1950's. Polio is still around but it isn't as common, thanks to Dr. Jonas Salk. Now about half the world is polio free. Unfortunately, there are still poor countries where vaccines are not readily available. Polio is still around in Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Somalia. UNICEF (United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund) organizes National Immunization Days, which are special days when the people from UNICEF go around and give shots to kids who need them to prevent them from getting polio.
Books, Magazines & Electronic Media:
Sherrow, Victoria. Polio Epidemic. Berkeley Heights: Enslow, 2001.
Schuelein, Marianne. "Poliomyelitis." World Book Online Reference Center. Jan. 2004. World Book, Inc. 14 Jan. 2004. http://www.worldbookonline.com/ar?/na/ar/co/ar437100.htm
"A World Without Polio." Faces. September, 2003: pp.22-23.
The Nemours Foundation. "Kids Health for Kids" 1995-2004. <http://www.kidshealth.org/kid/> (January-February, 2004).
Images of gurney and handicap basketball player from "Microsoft Office Online" <http://office.microsoft.com/clipart/default.aspx?cag=1> Images free for non-profit and personal use. (October-February, 2003-2004).
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