Polio Home > History of Polio
Records from antiquity mention crippling diseases that are compatible with polio; this could be the earliest mention of the condition. The first polio outbreaks in Europe were reported in the early 19th century, and polio outbreaks were first reported in the United States in 1843. Polio's history changed dramatically after the licensing of an inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) in 1955.
Polio (also known as poliomyelitis or infantile paralysis) is an illness caused by poliovirus. At one time, poliovirus infection occurred throughout the world.
The history of polio begins with records from antiquity mentioning crippling diseases compatible with polio. Michael Underwood first described a debility of the lower extremities in children that was recognizable as poliomyelitis in England in 1789. The first polio outbreaks in Europe were reported in the early 19th century, and polio outbreaks were first reported in the United States in 1843.
For the next hundred years, epidemics of polio disease were reported from developed countries in the Northern Hemisphere each summer and fall. These epidemics became increasingly severe, and the average age of people affected rose. The increasingly older age of people with primary polio infection increased both the severity of the disease and the number of deaths from polio. In 1952, polio reached a peak in the United States, with more than 21,000 cases of paralytic polio.
In the immediate pre-vaccine era, improved sanitation allowed less frequent exposure and increased the age of primary infection. Boosting of immunity from natural exposure became more infrequent and the number of susceptible people grew. This ultimately resulted in the occurrence of polio epidemics, with 13,000 to 20,000 paralytic cases reported annually.