Three weeks ago, this column covered the topic of polio, its cause, symptoms, complications, treatment, and prevention. Polio continues to be in the news, especially in New York, because there are indications that it is spreading geographically. Polio virus has been found in wastewater in Nassau County, Long Island.
Last Friday, Governor Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency because of the increasing number of positive tests and the apparent spread outward from the initial location. The order is to better enable health care providers to fight the disease and prevent further outbreaks of paralysis.
Among other things it will require providers to send vaccination data to the state Department of Health to better track the total numbers around the state in order to direct the greatest efforts in those areas. The order also allows expanded authorization of who can administer the vaccine. During the emergency, midwives, pharmacists, and other licensed paraprofessionals can vaccinate.
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.
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.
In 1954, Ellen Feury Levine, of Cooperstown, became a pioneer. Ellen and the rest of her second grade class at Cooperstown Central School received shots in the first national tests of a trial polio vaccine.
Levine had joined the decades-long, national effort to defeat a virus that ravaged thousands and worried millions of Americans for decades.