A Possible Polio Outbreak in the 21st Century?


Richard Pennington

A young girl recovering from polio and standing with crutches.

Stephen Serrano, Section Editor

In the 1940s and 1950s, “polio was one of the most diseases in industrialized countries, paralyzing hundreds of thousands of children every year” (polioeradication.org). Especially in the US alone, numerous amounts of children were exposed and contracted polio. Most children with polio become paralyzed from the waist down and can never walk again or walk the same again, with most using crutches. The worst cases of polio are ones that need “iron lungs” which push down on a patient’s lungs because they are paralyzed. Polio has been apart of American history and with new research and irresponsible parenting, there is a possibility of making a comeback in this century.

To be able to understand the significance of this disease, a brief history refresh is needed. According to NPR, this epidemic struck the nation with “60,000 children… infected with the virus… [with] thousands paralyzed, and more than 3,000 died” in 1952. The first outbreak was in 1916 in New York with over 27,000 cases and 6,000 deaths (NPR). Contacted through the touch of skin, through feces or infected water or food, many recreational places like movie theaters and swimming pools were closed down for that matter. Luckily in 1955, Dr. Jonas Salk created the first vaccination for youth before they caught the disease. The vaccination was widely spread and the last case of polio in the US was reported in 1979.

The inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) is given in four doses for children, securing them from the terrible disease. Taken as a shot or orally (in foreign countries), the polio vaccine has potentially saved millions of lives. Because many parents choose not to vaccinate their children for personal reasons, could there be another outbreak in this century?

Because there is an influx of foreign people from third world countries visiting the US, parents are putting their children at risk of contracting the disease. Well, even though there are not many people in the world that still have the disease, there is still a chance a child without the vaccination to be exposed to polio. The most at risk children are those who live near airports because of the close vaccinate to tourist and foreigners.

Most Americans cannot imagine a future with polio again. This leads to one suggestion which is vaccinating children. When asked what she thought about polio, Sarah Frazier (10) said that “polio is an awful disease that even affected FDR when he was president. I cannot imagine it coming back again.” So, is it possible for another polio outbreak in the 21st century? It is possible if people stop the vaccinations. The only thing the public can do to prevent polio is by not giving up modern medicine.