Tag: polio survivor

Why Is RFK, Jr Pimping out the Kennedy Compound to Anti-Vaxxers?

Folks who know the history of the Kennedy family and vaccines are likely surprised that RFK, Jr is holding a contest for his own organization using a visit to the Kennedy compound as a prize.

The Children’s Health Defense is ironically named, as all it seems to do is scare folks away from vaccinating and protecting their kids, something the Kennedy family once championed.

Can someone ask his mom?

Does she plan to go and does she support his work?

Do other members of the Kennedy family?

Why Is RFK, Jr Pimping out the Kennedy Compound to Anti-Vaxxers?

Before we look at the work of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, let’s review what the Kennedy family has done to help get vaccine-preventable diseases under control.

“Today is the sixteenth anniversary of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It is also the anniversary of the announcement that a vaccine has been discovered to prevent paralytic polio. Today over 90 million Americans have been vaccinated with the Salk vaccine. Over 80 million remain unvaccinated. Almost 4,800,000 children have not been vaccinated, and the majority of these are under five years of age. I hope that the renewed drive this spring and summer to provide vaccination for all Americans, and particularly those who are young, will have the wholehearted support of every parent in America. I hope that they, knowing some of the long range suffering which comes from an attack of polio — with this miraculous drug I hope that everyone takes advantage of it.”

President John F. Kennedy News Conference 9, April 12, 1961

In 1962, John F. Kennedy signed the Vaccination Assistance Act (Section 317 of the Public Health Service Act). It started as a three year program to help get kids vaccinated against polio, diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis, and has been continuously reauthorized ever since.

What else do we know about the Kennedy family and vaccines?

“Rose and maternal health and the health of her children were paramount for her as those children were growing up. She took great pride in getting them out into the countryside, getting them outside and walking through Brookline when they lived there, and getting them fresh air and getting them whatever medical needs they had. But she would say how fearful she was in the days before vaccines of how a child could pass away so quickly.”

Barbara Perry on The Life of Rose Kennedy

Why was she afraid if measles was so mild, as some folks still claim?

“Or take German Measles. We know German Measles during the first three months of pregnancy almost surely will deform the unborn child. Within the last few weeks, a new vaccine has been tested and preliminary results show it is 100% effective. It should be available within a year. Within our proposed clinics this new vaccine can be administered to children, immunizing them forever against a disease which can cause retardation in future generations. “

Eunice Kennedy Shriver speech before the Citizen’s Committee on Mental Retardation

Concerns about congenital rubella syndrome and German Measles (rubella) led many people to get vaccinated as soon as a vaccine was available.

Remember the rubella epidemic of 1964-65, when there were 12.5 million rubella virus infections, which “resulted in 11,250 therapeutic or spontaneous abortions, 2,100 neonatal deaths, and 20,000 infants born with congenital rubella syndrome?”

“It is most encouraging to learn that 28 million children have been vaccinated. This is a wonderful record. But in the great enthusiasm over the rubella program, attention has been removed from the effort to eradicate the common measles. As a result, the 22,231 reported common measles cases in 1968 have risen to 72,000 reported cases for 1971. All children between the ages of 1 and 12 should be immunized. You can help. Keep interest alive in both the common measles and German measles program.”

Speech by Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy March 1972

Maybe we simply need more folks like this advocating for vaccines today.

“Many of you perhaps may or may not know that old-fashioned measles can cause brain damage in children. Here in California as well as in other states, there are thousands of children who have not been vaccinated against this common childhood disease.”

Speech by Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy March 1972

How many people have Sargent Shriver’s Peace Corp volunteers help get vaccinated and protected around the world?

“We already have the ability to eradicate red measles, responsible for brain inflammation and mental retardation in one in a thousand cases affected by the disease. The measles vaccine and other vaccines are being administered in increasing numbers today, but we are still far from the kind of universal vaccination program that is necessary. Measles vaccines ought to be administered to every infant from nine months of age on.”

Sargent Shriver at the Special Convocation of George Peabody College (1965)

How many people are vaccinated and protected because of the work of the Kennedy family?

Senator Edward Kennedy’s bill would have helped get more adults vaccinated and protected if it had passed.

How many kids aren’t getting vaccinated because Robert F Kennedy, Jr is scaring their parents?

“The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.”

Robert F. Kennedy

An environmental lawyer, you really have to wonder why he hasn’t championed climate change, instead of going after vaccines, which have been found to be safe, with few risks, and necessary.

More on Why Is RFK, Jr Pimping out the Kennedy Compound to Anti-Vaxxers?

What Is the Morbidity/Mortality Rate of the Polio Vaccine vs the Wild Virus?

Some anti-vaccine folks still think that the risks of vaccines are far greater than the risks of the vaccine-preventable diseases they keep you from getting.

As more people are vaccinated and diseases disappear, they forget how bad those diseases are, skip or delay getting their vaccines, and trigger outbreaks.
As more people are vaccinated and diseases disappear, they forget how bad those diseases are, skip or delay getting their vaccines, and trigger outbreaks. Photo by WHO

They aren’t, but you can kind of understand why they might think that with a disease like polio, when they might never actually have known anyone to have the disease.

What Is the Morbidity/Mortality Rate of the Polio Vaccine vs the Wild Virus?

Still, even though polio is under good control and close to being eradicated, the risk/benefit ratio clearly favors getting vaccinated and protected.

That’s because the polio vaccines are very safe and if we stopped vaccinating, polio could come back.

In fact, morbidity/mortality from polio vaccines are decreasing, as we are using much less oral polio vaccine (OPV) in the transition (OPV cessation) to just using inactivated polio vaccine (IPV).

“Over the past ten years, more than 10 billion doses of OPV have been given to nearly three billion children worldwide. More than 16 million cases of polio have been prevented, and the disease has been reduced by more than 99%. It is the appropriate vaccine through which to achieve global polio eradication.”

OPV Cessation

And while most developed countries already use IPV, those that are still using OPV recently switched from a trivalent (tOPV) to a bivalent (bOPV) form of OPV. We could do this because type 2 poliovirus has already been eradicated (2015)!

Of course, the issue with the OPV vaccines is that they rarely cause vaccine-associated paralytic polio (VAPP) and circulating vaccine-derived polioviruses (cVDPV).

Fortunately, this is even less common with bOPV.

As this chart from the WHO shows, polio vaccines are very safe.
As this chart from the WHO shows, polio vaccines are very safe.

So morbidity (getting sick)/mortality (dying) from polio vaccines is low.

There were only 31 cases of wild polio in 2018, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and an additional 102 cases of cVDPV in 7 countries.

What about morbidity/mortality from polio?

“As recently as 30 years ago, wild poliovirus paralysed more than 350 000 children in more than 125 countries every year. In 2018 there were fewer than 30 reported cases in just two countries – Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

“Zero polio transmission and health for all”, WHO Director-General gives new year’s wish to the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan

With a 99.9% drop in polio cases since 1998, your risk of getting polio in most parts of the world is very low, but you still have to consider both the morbidity/mortality of polio in the pre-vaccine era and the risk of polio returning if we stop vaccinating before it is eradicated.

What about the idea that you don’t have to worry about polio because only 1% of kids with polio developed paralysis?

“The mortality rate for acute paralytic polio ranges from 5–15%.”

Disease factsheet about poliomyelitis

Well, when everyone gets polio, even 1% is a lot.

With such a safe vaccine, why put your kids at risk of getting polio?

Do you even understand what the risks are?

No, it isn’t just the risk of wild polio in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Since the oral polio vaccines shed, if you are unvaccinated, in addition to the risk of wild polio, there is a small risk of getting circulating vaccine-derived polioviruses (cVDPV) if you are not vaccinated and protected. No, it is not a big risk, as there were only 102 cases of cVDPV in 7 countries in 2018, but it isn’t zero either.

And the other big risk is that if enough folks stop getting vaccinated, taking their chances hiding in the herd, polio will come back and our chance to eradicate another vaccine-preventable disease will fail.

More on the Morbidity and Mortality Rates of Polio

Why Do We Still Vaccinate If Polio Has Been Eliminated?

It’s true, polio has been eliminated in the United States.

Are these folks serious with this anti-vaccine nonsense?
Are these folks serious with this anti-vaccine nonsense?

But that doesn’t mean that we can stop vaccinating kids against polio yet.

Why Do We Still Vaccinate If Polio Has Been Eliminated?

For one thing, the last polio case in the United States was a lot more recent than 40 years ago.

What happened 40 years ago?

That was when we had the last endemic case of polio in the United States, in 1979. After that, in addition to cases of VAPP, there were at least 6 cases of imported paralytic poliomyelitis. In fact, the last case of wild polio in the United States was in 1993, just 26 years ago.

And just ten years ago, in 2009, was the very last case of VAPP, a patient with a long-standing combined immunodeficiency who was probably infected in the late 1990s, even though she didn’t develop paralysis until years later.

But still, why couldn’t we stop vaccinating against polio in the United States, even though polio isn’t eradicated yet? After all, we stopped using the smallpox vaccine in 1972, before smallpox was declared eradicated (1980).

While that is true, smallpox isn’t as contagious as polio and there hadn’t been a case of smallpox in the United States for over 30 years when we stopped using the vaccine.

Until wild polio is eradicated and the oral polio vaccine isn’t used anymore (OPV switch), we must continue to vaccinate against polio to prevent new outbreaks.

That is the polio eradication and endgame strategic plan.

Over the next few years, the world will hopefully switch to using just the injectable form of the polio vaccines, which eliminates the risk of VAPP.

But if we are so close, why not just stop vaccinating in those parts of the world that don’t have polio?

Because we are so close to eradicating polio.

Why take the risk of polio spreading from one of the remaining endemic countries, paralyzing kids, and putting eradication efforts further behind?

Should we stop vaccinating kids because anti-vaccine folks are pushing misinformation about DDT, renamed diseases, or vaccine induced diseases?

Of course not!

Vaccines are safe, effective, and necessary.

Let’s continue the work and eradicate polio, once and for all!

And for the record – we don’t pump “kids full of polio” when we give them a polio vaccine. The polio shot is an inactivated vaccine, so doesn’t contain live polio virus.

More on Why Do We Still Vaccinate If Polio Has Been Eliminated?

Milestones Towards the Eradication of Polio

There is a lot more interest in polio these days, but not because we are close to eradicating this deadly disease, but rather because of the emergence of cases of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM).

Although the cases have a different cause, the symptoms of AFM are the same that we used to see during the outbreaks of polio that used to hit each summer in the pre-vaccine era.

Polio

Surprisingly, in most people, the poliovirus doesn’t actually cause any symptoms. They simply have an asymptomatic infection.

In some others, the poliovirus causes flu-like symptoms, including a fever, sore throat, nausea, and a headache – symptoms that last about 3 to 5 days.

Much more rarely, the poliovirus causes meningitis or paralysis.

It is these cases of paralytic polio that most people are aware of and that panicked parents during summers in the 1940s and 50s.

In addition to respiratory problems (think iron lungs), polio causes muscle atrophy.
In addition to respiratory problems (think iron lungs), polio causes muscle atrophy. (CC BY-NC 4.0)

After having flu-like symptoms, those kids who would develop paralytic polio can develop pain and then flaccid paralysis.

“The most severe form, paralytic poliomyelitis, which is seen in less than 1% of patients, presents as excruciating episodes of pain in back and lower limbs. In children, the disease may present in biphasic form—a period of prodrome followed by a brief symptom-free period of 7 to 10 days and then appearance of asymmetrical paralysis of limbs. Flaccid paralysis is the hallmark with loss of deep tendon reflexes eventually.”

Mehndirattta et al on Poliomyelitis Historical Facts, Epidemiology, and Current Challenges in Eradication

Of course, polio wasn’t always called polio.

Other names have included infantile spinal paralysis, infantile paralysis, Heine-Medin disease, poliomyelitis anterior acuta, and acute anterior poliomyelitis.

The first use of the name “polio” came from Adolph Kussmaul, with his use of the term poliomyelitis anterior acuta, which was derived from the Greek polios “grey” and myelos “marrow” and itis “inflammation.” It was because he knew that it was caused by inflammation of the spinal cord gray matter, even if he didn’t know why.

Polio History

Polio didn’t just suddenly appear in the middle of the 20th century though, it was likely around for ages.

That this Ancient Egyptian priest's leg is smaller than the other and he uses a staff to walk suggests that he could have had polio.
That one of this Ancient Egyptian priest’s legs is smaller than the other and he uses a staff to walk could suggest that he had polio.

In addition to an Egyptian funeral stele (a stone slab used as a monument) portraying Roma the Doorkeeper from 1500 BCE that suggests he had paralytic polio, archeologists have found evidence of polio in skeletons as far back as the Neolithic period.

A medical book from 1789 likely describes people with polio.
A medical book from 1789 likely describes people with polio.

Still, we don’t really know how long polio has been around and we don’t know why we began to see more cases in the mid-20th Century, although there are theories, including, ironically, about hygiene. While we often credit improved sanitation and hygiene for helping to reduce mortality from many diseases, some think that this actually set us up for polio outbreaks, as we were no longer exposed as infants, when we still had some maternal immunity.

The one thing that we do know is that we are on the verge of eradicating polio, as there are very cases now, in just a few countries.

Polio Timeline and Milestones

In addition to the more ancient discoveries about polio, there is a lot to learn about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases if we look at the major milestones of this important disease.

Although in the end it is a success story, the road to figuring out what caused polio symptoms and how polio could be prevented was very long.

  • Michael Underwood describes what is thought to be paralytic polio in his book A Treatise on the Diseases of Children, with General Directions for the Management of Infants from Birth  in a section on “Debility of the Lower Extremities” (1789)
  • first reported outbreak of polio in Worksop, England (1835)
  • Jacob von Heine, head of an orthopedic hospital in Germany, publishes a monograph that describes 29 cases of paralytic polio, and actually attributes the condition to inflammation of the anterior horns of the spinal cord, although the cause was still not known (1840)
  • first use of the term poliomyelitis by Adolph Kussmaul (1874)
  • Nils August Bergenholtz reports on an outbreak of paralytic polio in Sweden (1881)
  • Karl-Oskar Medin, a pediatrician who reported on a polio epidemic in Sweden (1887), later presents his findings at the Tenth International Conference in Berlin (1890)
  • the first major outbreak in the United States is documented in Rutland County, Vermont and causes 132 cases of paralysis and 18 deaths (1894)
  • Ivar Wickman tracks cases of polio during an epidemic in Sweden in 1905 and was the first to suggest that polio was contagious and that you could get it from “those afflicted with the abortive type” (1907)
  • although they don’t actually identify the poliovirus, Dr. Karl Landsteiner and Dr. Erwin Popper  identify that a virus causes polio when they inject material from the spinal cord of a child who had recently died with polio into the peritoneum of two monkeys, both of which soon developed paralytic polio (1908)
  • Simon Flexner, first discovers polio antibodies (1911), but unlike other researchers at the time, pushes the theory that polio was spread by the olfactory route, instead of the fecal-oral route, which was why we saw the development of nose sprays, etc., to try and prevent polio, none of which worked of course
  • a large polio epidemic in the United States causes at least 27,000 cases and 6,000 deaths (1916)
  • Philip Drinker and Louis Agassiz Shaw invent the first iron lung, the Drinker respirator (1929)
  • Frank M. Burnet and Jean Macnamara proposed that there were antigenically different strains of poliovirus (1931)
  • John R. Paul and James D. Trask help figure out how polio was spread by identifying the polio virus in human waste and sewage samples (1932)
  • Maurice Brodie and John Kolmer have unsuccessful field trials of early polio vaccines, including allergic reactions and vaccine induced polio because of poor attenuation (1935)
  • Sister Elizabeth Kenny establishes a clinic in Australia to treat polio survivors (1932) and later publishes her treatment recommendations, Infantile Paralysis and Cerebral Diplegia (1937)
  • the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis is founded by FDR to stop polio (1937)
  • the first March of Dimes fundraisers to stop polio (1938)
  • Carl Kling found traces of the poliovirus in the Stockholm sewage system (1942)
  • the Sister Kenny Institute is built in Minneapolis, as her treatment methods become widely accepted after years of controversy (1942)
  • the U.S. Army Neurotropic Virus Commission, including Albert Sabin, gets a grant from the NFIP to study polio in North Africa (1943)
  • Isabel Morgan actually developed the first inactivated polio vaccine, but only tested it on monkeys (1949)
  • John Enders, with T. H. Weller and F. C. Robbins, received the Nobel Prize in 1954 for their work on the cultivation of the poliomyelitis viruses (1949)
  • David Bodian creates the monkey model using field isolates of poliovirus and with Jonas Salk, identifies the three poliovirus serotyes (1950s)
  • Hilary Koprowki develops the first oral, live polio vaccine, (1950) although Sabin’s vaccine eventually gets licensed because it is thought to be less neurovirulent in monkeys and undergoes more testing
  • there are 58,000 cases of paralytic polio in the United States (1952)
  • Renato Dulbecco, with Marguerite Vogt, successfully grows and purifies polio virus (1952)
  • the Polio Pioneers vaccine field trial, led by Thomas Francis Jr.,  that proves that Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine is safe and effective begins (1954)
  • Jonas Salk gets approval for his polio vaccine (1955)
  • improperly inactivated polio vaccine from Cutter Laboratories (Cutter Incident) causes 40,000 cases of polio, 200 cases of paralysis, and kills ten people (1955)
  • Albert Sabin develops the first live, oral polio vaccine, which replaced Jonas Salk’s inactivated polio vaccine (1961)
  • that polio survivors can develop new, late complications or post-polio syndrome begins to get reported (1969)
  • last endemic case of polio in the United States (1979)
  • the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis officially changes its name to the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation (1979)
  • the World Health Assembly adopts a resolution for the worldwide eradication of polio by 2000 and the the Global Polio Eradication Initiative is launched (1988)
  • last imported case of polio in the United States (1993)
  • the WHO Region of the Americas is declared polio free (1994)
  • “last” case of VAPP that was acquired in the United States (1999)
  • last case of wild poliovirus type 2 (1999)
  • the WHO Western Pacific Region is declared polio free (2000)
  • the United States switches back to using the an inactivated polio vaccine because of concerns over VAPP (2000)
  • the WHO European Region is declared polio free (2002)
  • outbreak of vaccine derived polio among a group of unvaccinated Amish in Minnesota (2005)
  • last case of VAPP that was acquired outside the United States, an unvaccinated 22-year-old U.S. college student who became infected with polio vaccine virus while traveling in Costa Rica in a university-sponsored study-abroad program (2005)
  • last case of VAPP in the United States, a patient with a long-standing combined immunodeficiency who was probably infected in the late 1990s (2009)
  • last case of type 3 poliovirus (2012)
  • seasonal reports of acute flaccid myelitis in the late summer and early fall, which might be caused by a non-polio enterovirus, are reminiscent of polio epidemics in the early part of the 20th century (2014)
  • type 2 poliovirus eradicated (2015)
  • Bob Sears says that it is okay to delay the polio vaccine on his alternative vaccine schedule because “we don’t have polio in the United States” (2015)
  • a global switch from trivalent OPV to bivalent OPV in routine immunization programs (2016)
  • polio remains endemic in just two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan (2018)

So it should be clear, that despite what some folks think, polio wasn’t conquered overnight. And Salk and Sabin obviously had a lot of help, although those are the names we most commonly hear connected with polio eradication.

“Until poliovirus transmission is interrupted in these countries, all countries remain at risk of importation of polio, especially vulnerable countries with weak public health and immunization services and travel or trade links to endemic countries.”

Global Polio Eradication Initiative on Endemic Countries

And to be clear, polio hasn’t yet been conquered.

There is still some work to do unless we want to see cases of polio and paralytic polio return.

That’s why it is important that you don’t skip your child’s vaccines, even for diseases that we don’t have in the United States anymore.

More on the History of Polio

Complications of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

We know that vaccine-preventable diseases can be life-threatening.

In the pre-vaccine era, when these diseases were much more common, way too many people died, but still, most people did recover.

They didn’t always survive without complications though.

Tragically, we are starting to see more of these complications as more kids are now getting some of these vaccine-preventable diseases again.

Complications of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

That we can prevent these serious complications is another benefit of getting vaccinated!

How serious?

Have you ever seen someone who has survived a meningococcal infection?

Do they always have all of their arms and legs?

How about their fingers and toes?

"Baby" Charlotte survived her battle with meningococcemia and continues to take on new challenges!
“Baby” Charlotte survived her battle with meningococcemia and continues to take on new challenges!

There is a reason that we say that you have to earn your natural immunity. You have to survive these diseases to get it. And you want to survive without any long-term complications, which can include:

  1. chicken pox – shingles, secondary bacterial infections, pneumonia, meningitis, encephalitis, seizures, transverse myelitis, Reye syndrome, neonatal varicella, congenital varicella syndrome
  2. congenital rubella syndrome – neonatal death, heart problems, deafness, cataracts, intellectual disability, liver and spleen damage, glaucoma, thyroid problems
  3. diphtheria – myocarditis, heart failure, nerve damage, muscle paralysis
  4. Haemophilus influenzae type b – meningitis, epiglottitis, pneumonia, osteomyelitis, cellulitis, hearing loss, brain damage, loss of limbs
  5. hepatitis A – can rarely lead to liver failure
  6. hepatitis B – chronic hepatitis B, cirrhosis, liver failure, liver cancer
  7. HPV – genital warts, cancer
  8. influenza – parotitis, pneumonia, myocarditis, encephalitis, myositis, rhabdomyolysis, multi-organ failure
  9. measles –pneumonia, seizures, encephalitis, SSPE
  10. mumps – orchitis (inflammation of the testicles), oophoritis (inflammation of the ovaries), pancreatitis, meningitis, encephalitis
  11. pneumococcal disease – pneumonia, mastoiditis, meningitis, bacteremia, sepsis, empyema, pericarditis, hearing loss, brain damage
  12. pertussis – pneumonia, seizures, apnea, encephalopathy, rib fractures
  13. polio – meningitis, paralysis, post-polio syndrome
  14. rabies – it is very rare to survive a rabies infection without treatment
  15. rotavirus – dehydration, intussusception
  16. rubella – arthritis, congenital rubella syndrome
  17. shingles – postherpetic neuralgia, pneumonia, hearing problems, blindness, encephalitis
  18. tetanus – seizures, laryngospasm, fractures, pulmonary embolism, aspiration pneumonia
  19. typhoid fever – intestinal perforation, internal bleeding, peritonitis, hepatitis, osteomyelitis, arthritis, meningitis, myocarditis,
  20. yellow fever – pneumonia, parotitis, sepsis

Anti-vaccine folks rarely talk about the complications of vaccine-preventable diseases. For that matter, they also often push the idea that vaccines don’t even work and that these diseases aren’t even vaccine preventable, don’t they?

Don’t believe them. Vaccines work and they are safe and necessary, especially if you want to avoid these diseases.

More on Complications of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

Vaccine Movies and Videos

All of the attention that Robert De Niro gave the movie Vaxxed has many people realizing that there are anti-vaccine movies out there.

Promoted as documentaries, they mostly include the same anti-vaccine ‘experts’ that scare parents away from vaccinating their kids on the Internet.

These types of movies include:

  • Vaxxed
  • The Greater Good
  • Trace Amounts
  • Who Killed Alex Spourdalakis?
  • Bought
  • Man Made Epidemic
  • Sacrificial Virgins
  • The Truth About Vaccines

Most are propaganda, without even a trace amount of truth in them, and should not be used as a research tool to help you make a decision about vaccines.

Vaccine Movies and Documentaries

What about movies to actually help you get educated about vaccines?

Every Last Child takes a look at the fight to end polio in Pakistan.
Every Last Child takes a look at the fight to end polio in Pakistan.

Watch these movies and documentaries:

Have you seen or heard about any of these movies about vaccines?

Vaccine Videos

Just as bad as so-called vaccine documentaries, many of the vaccine videos that you find on You-Tube are also filled with misinformation and propaganda, including many vaccine scare videos.

Where are you Jon Stewart? Measles is still around...
Where are you Jon Stewart? Measles is still around…

Watch the following vaccines videos instead:

Still have questions?

More on Vaccine Movies and Videos

Did Modern Ventilators Replace the Iron Lung for Folks with Polio?

Believe it or not, some folks don’t think that vaccines work and that some diseases, like smallpox and polio, never really went away.

Residual paralysis that lasts more than 60 days is the strongest predictor that a case is really polio, which is why, in addition to testing for polio virus, the 60 day standard is used.
Want the real truth? Residual paralysis that lasts more than 60 days is the strongest predictor that a case is really polio, which is why, in addition to testing for polio virus, the 60 day standard is used.

Of course, they have special little theories for how this all works.

Did Modern Ventilators Replace the Iron Lung for Folks with Polio?

In addition to thinking that we just change the names of diseases when we want them to go away, some folks think that we don’t see anyone in iron lungs anymore, not because polio has been eliminated, but because modern ventilators simply replaced the iron lung.

Is that true?

The iron lung, invented in 1927, helped people with polio breath.

In fact, in the 1940s and 1950s, there were whole hospital wards full of polio patients in iron lungs.

Unlike most of today’s ventilators, the iron lung is a negative pressure ventilator. In contrast, most modern ventilators, the ones that you see people hooked up to with a tube going down to their lungs, are positive pressure ventilators.

Iron Lung

What’s the difference?

A positive pressure ventilator pushes air into your lungs. They are useful when you have a lung disease or simply can’t breath on your own.

When people had polio, there usually wasn’t anything wrong with their lungs – it was their chest muscles and diaphragm that were the problem. So the negative pressure in the iron lung would compress and decompress their chest.

One benefit of the iron lung included that it was less invasive than ventilating someone through a tracheostomy, which became an option in the 1960s. While many new options became available for those needing long term ventilation since then, including noninvasive positive pressure ventilation, some still like to use their iron lungs.

Thanks to vaccines, most folks will only see an iron lung in a museum and read about polio in history books.
Thanks to vaccines, most folks will only see an iron lung in a museum and read about polio in history books. Photo by Oscar Tarragó, M.D., M.P.H.

And while it is true that they don’t make them anymore, iron lungs have not disappeared. There are some folks with polio that still use them.

But what if someone developed polio now, would they be put in an iron lung?

No, they wouldn’t. For one thing, they don’t make iron lungs anymore. Instead, they would likely use mouth intermittent positive pressure ventilation.

Still, we don’t see a lot of folks getting diagnosed with polio, needing to use mouth intermittent positive pressure ventilation, instead of iron lungs these days. And that’s because we don’t see a lot of folks getting diagnosed with polio.

Vaccines work. Polio is almost eradicated.

What to Know About Polio, Modern Ventilators and Iron Lungs

Although some people with polio are still using their iron lungs, the main reason we don’t see more people with polio needing to use iron lungs or modern ventilators is simply because polio is almost eradicated.

More on Ventilators and Iron Lungs