Polio Outbreak in the 20th Century

This passage discusses the polio outbreak in the early 1950s.

Lexile Level: 1250L

Categories: History Sports & Health


Imagine being confined for days at a time in a huge, iron tube with only your head sticking out of the end. Many children stricken with polio had to lie in these iron lungs during the polio outbreak of 1916, which left 6,000 dead and 27,000 paralyzed. Polio, or infantile paralysis, was a communicable disease that invaded the nervous system, leaving the victim paralyzed or sometimes dead. Over 50% of the poliovirus cases were children ages 3 to 5. In 1952, there were 52,628 polio cases recorded. The disease had plagued the world as far back as the ancient Egyptians. In fact, Egyptian paintings depict people with withered limbs and some walking with canes, all of them young. The disease was stopped on April 12, 1955 when scientist Jonas Salk (1914-1995) developed a safe polio vaccine. After the polio vaccine was released in the United States, polio cases dropped by 85 to 90% in only two years time.


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