This New England State Had the First Known U.S. Polio Epidemic
Polio (poliomyelitis) has caused paralysis and death throughout human history, but the first major polio epidemics were unheard of until the 20th Century.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says polio is a "disabling and life-threatening disease caused by the poliovirus." According to the CDC, "The virus spreads from person to person and can inflict a person's spinal cord, causing paralysis (can't move parts of the body)."
Polio has been around since ancient times. The virus is spread easily under the right conditions. The CDC says, "There is no cure for paralytic polio and no specific treatment."
Localized paralytic polio epidemics began to appear in Europe and the United States around 1900. The first report of multiple polio cases was in 1941 in Louisiana. A cluster of 26 polio cases occurred in Boston in 1893.
The first recognized U.S. polio epidemic occurred in 1894 in Vermont, with 132 total cases, including 18 deaths.
The Vermont Community Newspaper Group says, "The polio epidemic lasted almost 60 years in the U.S., and at its peak in the 1940s, the disease left some 50,000 people paralyzed."
The March of Dimes, a nonprofit that works to improve the health of mothers and babies, was founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938 as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis to combat polio.
As school children, many of us recall collecting dimes in a book to help fund the research of the March of Dimes.
In 1956, a 42-inch-tall dime-shaped monument was placed atop Vermont's Mt. Manfield to honor the work of the March of Dimes and those who suffered from polio. The monument, carved from Danby imperial marble, was moved to the former Mayo Farmhouse at Weeks Hill and Mayo Farms Roads in Stowe, Vermont.
Dr. Jonas Salk invented a polio vaccine, which was administered to children in schools nationwide in the 1950s and '60s. Polio was eliminated from North America and most other countries by 1994 but has not been entirely eradicated.
According to the National Library of Medicine, "As recently as 2013, Syria witnessed an outbreak, and the disease has now spread to some ten countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East."
A Trip Back in Time With New Bedford's WBSM
Gallery Credit: Tim Weisberg