Hurray for the Imminent End of Polio
By David Henderson
More remarkably, the disease that was once a global scourge — a thief of childhood everywhere — has been all but eradicated from the earth. This year could see its complete disappearance outside of virus labs, experts say.
This is from Joseph Hall, “The world is zeroing in on the end of polio — by stopping people at bus stops, airports and train stations,” The Star, February 16, 2018.
And in case that headline makes you think that “the world” or someone is forcibly stopping people, I think you can relax. That’s not my reading, at least. Here’s a relevant paragraph:
Over the years, vaccine administrators have evolved strategies to minimize such chaos, Wenger says. These include sending teams — usually made up of three people — onto the buses or trains before they empty.
On board they will identify families with kids and administer doses of the oral vaccine on the spot. They will also mark the children’s fingers with a non-toxic, indelible ink that will identify them as having been inoculated across the rest of their journeys.
And acceptance by parents of the vaccine program — even in such ad-hoc forms — has generally been high, says Dr. Rana Muhammad Safdar, head of the polio eradication program in Pakistan.
Safdar says a recent survey indicated that 95 per cent of approached families agreed to allow the vaccinations across the country.
I don’t know if the other 5% get to say no, but the statement that 95% agreed suggests (and I say “suggests” rather than “shows”) that it is voluntary.
One thing I learned from the article is that polio developed because societies got cleaner and more hygienic:
Polio, a disease of filth, has likely been with us for millennia.
But it only became a global plague when we began to clean up as the 20th century dawned.
“Polio is actually a disease of better hygiene,” says Dr. Allison McGeer, an infectious disease expert at Toronto’s Mount Sinai hospital.
The virus that causes it is found in human feces and raw sewage, and polio is known as a fecal-oral route disease. That means it’s passed on when stool particles on food or a hand are transmitted to other people and find their way into their mouths.
“So the reason polio became such a problem in the 20th century is because we started having safe food and water for large segments of the population in the developed world,” McGeer says.
Cleanliness meant fewer mothers were able to pass on immunity to their babies. And those children did not develop a lifelong resistance themselves.
“In the 16th and 17th century, pretty much everybody would have been exposed to polio very early in life and would have developed immunity to it and would have been fine,” McGeer says.
The article is focused on Canada because the publication is Canadian. Here’s a paragraph that has special meaning for me:
In the Canada of the 1950s, hundreds died and thousands — mostly youngsters — were paralyzed by the disease. In 1953 alone, some 9,000 Canadians contracted polio, which left 500 dead that year.
In September 1952 (I think), just after the school year started in Manitoba, my sister, who had just started first grade (I think), got polio. We were talking about it recently and fortunately the main thing she remembers is getting to eat ice cream in the hospital (a real luxury in the Henderson household.) My father, by the way, got polio in 1943.
HT2 Janet Bufton and Adam Allouba.