At Week’s End: ‘Polio’ once feared diagnosis

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March 3, 2017 - 12:00 AM

There was a time in what otherwise were the halcyon days of post-World War II when the word “polio” had parents suffering the throes of anxiety.
For whatever reason, the virus reached epidemic proportions, until Jonas Salk, who wisely it turned out, chose to research viruses rather than practice medicine after earning a medical degree. His name forever will be etched among those who changed the world.
But, let’s drop back to before his vaccine lifted the specter of the dreaded virus from daily concerns of every mom and dad on the face of the earth, and for many adults who feared flu-like symptoms indicated they were about to step into the ring with poliomyelitis.
Several kids in and near Humboldt suffered from polio.
One lived a couple of miles east of town. Whenever we drove by — my parents loved to take little jaunts into the country — Mom would demand we roll up our car’s windows. She feared airborne “germs” would find their ways inside and infect me or sister Jenelle, then a toddler.
A girl south of town, Jerrinne Puckett, mostly was homebound because of the virus. Mom and my grandmother sent her cards and little gifts every now and then.
A surprise I learned while reading portions of the Register’s upcoming “Chronicles” local history tome, was one of my best friends in high school, Bob Works, suffered a mild case. “Mom said that was the worst day of her life when she was told Bob had polio,” Joe Works, Bob’s brother, told me. For years Bob and wife Tami have lived in Lincoln, Neb., where he has been a law professor at the University of Nebraska.
I don’t know if there was a good way to avoid the virus, urban legend had it staying indoors during the hottest summer weather would help; hard to do without air-conditioning. Also, avoiding crowds, particularly in swimming pools where saliva, a runny nose and any number of other carriers could “swim” about looking for a host. That was easy to do: Humboldt’s pool didn’t open until 1957.

INTRODUCTION of the Salk vaccine in 1955 was a huge relief. I remember lining up to get “shot.”
In more recent years polio is about to join the dodo bird in extinction, mainly through efforts started in 1985 by Rotary International, with a helping hand from the start by Iola Rotarians.
About 2 billion kids have been vaccinated worldwide. Rotarians have raised better than $850 million and Bill and Melinda Gates, through their foundation, have kicked in $555 million.
At last count polio was present only in minuscule numbers in a couple Middle East nations and Nigeria, in most instances because of reluctance of religious zealots to permit oral vaccine being administered to their kids.

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