Radio Shows | Wytheville and Polio | mp3 … wma … wav
Today, we will explore eradicating polio. In 1950, polio ravaged American communities especially the Appalachian foothills of Virginia. Wytheville (With-ville) and Wythe (With) County had the country's highest per capita polio rate.
Back then no one knew how the virus was transmitted so people were scared of crowds and sharing food. They stopped going out and kept their children inside so it became the "Summer without Children".
Polio is short for poliomyelitis. The polio virus damages nerves that control muscle function resulting in temporary or permanent paralysis. That's why many people ended up in leg braces like President Franklin Roosevelt.
Worse were people who spent months to years in an iron lung - a chamber that encases the body to help the lungs breathe. One man in Wythe County spent 32 years in one. In total the polio outbreak in Wythe County made 184 people sick and killed 17.
In 1954 Jonas Salk developed an injectable polio vaccine. Then in 1963 Albert Sabin developed an oral vaccine. Together they were so effective that in two years there were only 65 cases of polio in the US and none since 1977.
Is polio still a problem today? Yes, but we are getting close to eliminating it world wide. Last year there were about two thousand cases - a far cry from 1998 when 350,000 children were paralyzed. Polio could disappear in the next two years. That means polio will join smallpox as the only infectious diseases eliminated from the planet.
But as we sit on the verge of this great news - we're also learning people cured of polio are suffering their symptoms again. It's the new polio challenge - 20 million people worldwide are predicted to re-experience the symptoms one day.
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