A notable year in the history of polio was 1789, during which Michael Underwood first described a debility of the lower extremities in children that was recognizable as polio. Polio outbreaks were first reported in the United States in 1843. A turning point for the disease occurred in 1955, following the introduction of an inactivated polio vaccine (IPV). The decline in the incidence of polio continued following oral polio vaccine (OPV) introduction in 1961.
Early Polio History
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.
History of Polio: Pre-Vaccine Era
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 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 increased, which ultimately resulted in the occurrence of polio epidemics, with 13,000 to 20,000 paralytic cases reported annually.
Polio's history changed following the licensing of a polio vaccine. In the early vaccine era, the incidence of polio dramatically decreased after the introduction of inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) in 1955. The decline continued following oral polio vaccine (OPV) introduction in 1961. In 1960, a total of 2,525 paralytic cases were reported, compared with 61 in 1965.
The last cases of paralytic poliomyelitis caused by endemic polio transmission of wild virus in the United States were in 1979, when an outbreak occurred among the Amish in several Midwest states. The virus was imported from the Netherlands.