There are few diseases in the United States associated so closely with panic and terror as poliomyelitis (polio), a highly contagious illness that lives in the throat and intestinal tract. In the twentieth century, polio epidemics killed and disabled tens of thousands of children, causing paralysis, muscle atrophy, breathing and swallowing problems, and a myriad of other complications. What first appeared as a cold or flu could quickly become a debilitating disability and even end in death. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was left permanently disabled, without use of his legs, after a diagnosis of polio at age 39. The polio vaccine developed in the 1950s by Jonas Salk and an oral vaccine later developed by Albert Sabin ultimately eradicated polio in the United States.
Additional resources for research
- “Whatever happened to polio?,” Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
- Jonas Salk and Albert Bruce Sabin, Chemical Heritage Foundation.
- “FDR and Polio,” Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum.
- “Polio Eradication,” Against the Odds: Making a Difference in Global Health, US National Library of Medicine.
- The Polio Crusade, PBS American Experience.