When Joan Ogden contracted polio in 1952 the disease was a dreaded annual scourge. Incidents reached their peak that year when 57,628 cases resulted in over 3,000 deaths and over 21,000 cases of paralysis. In her oral history Ogden recounted society’s general awareness that polio appeared in epidemic waves with the onset of warmer weather (subsiding in the late fall and winter) and that people took precautions, such as their level of awareness allowed, to mitigate its spread. Polio had been deemed a public health concern in the United States going back to 1894 when an outbreak (132 cases) was reported that year in the Otter Creek Valley of Vermont. In succeeding years similar outbreaks occurred with increasing frequency in other parts of the country. New York City witnessed a sizeable outbreak in 1907 with an estimated 2,500 cases followed in 1916 by a far larger regional epidemic in 20 states that took the lives of 7,000 and left another 27,000 with varying degrees of residual paralysis. As more was revealed about its epidemiological characteristics through morbidity and mortality reporting little doubt was left: polio was a disease broad in geographic distribution and environmental scope driven by population dynamics, health status and hygiene.


Polio Story Copyright © 2022 by Mike Thelin. All Rights Reserved.

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