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Records from antiquity mention 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 poliovirus outbreaks in Europe were reported in the early 19th century, and poliovirus outbreaks were first reported in the United States in 1843.
For the next hundred years, epidemics of poliovirus infection 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 poliovirus infection increased both the severity of the disease and number of deaths from polio. Polio reached a peak in the United States in 1952, with more than 21,000 paralytic cases. However, following the introduction of effective vaccines, polio incidence declined rapidly. The last case of wild-virus polio acquired in the United States was in 1979, and global poliovirus eradication may be achieved within the next decade.