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News of Otsego County

epidemic

Polio Rearing Its Ugly Head

Polio Rearing Its Ugly Head

By Richard Sternberg

First COVID-19. Then monkeypox. Now polio. Next, West Nile Virus. And always in the background in Central New York, Lyme disease. The pan-, epi-, and endemics of deadly and disabling diseases doesn’t seem to stop. This week I will try to tackle polio.

An iron lung sponsored by the March of Dimes helps a young boy with polio breath during the 1950s. (Photo by Kirn Vintage Stock/Corbis via Getty Images)

There are very few people who will read this that remember how much polio terrorized people, especially mothers, in the first half of the 20th century. People become sick, develop muscle paralysis, develop severe weakness, and occasionally have respiratory muscle involvement, which could lead to the use of mechanical ventilation including, by what was called, an iron lung, and ultimately lead to death.

I myself remember my mother’s concerns and fears that I did not understand at the time. I had the misfortune of having to see an iron lung in use when I was a medical student, though for a different disease. It’s horrible to think of a person having to try and live their life in such a device. Truthfully that wasn’t much of a life at all.

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