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The History Of Poliomyelitis Essay

1834 words - 8 pages

Public awareness of and concern for persons with disabilities was virtually non-existent until the poliomyelitis epidemic during the mid-twentieth century focused attention on the plight of disabled Americans. As the epidemiology of the disease evolved, poliomyelitis, polio for short, evolved from a disease of poor immigrants, living in crowded, filthy conditions to an affliction that struck across the social strata affecting the middle and upper classes. Pervasive fear of polio and its consequences coupled with the President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s, public struggle with the disease and its complications propelled the fight against polio and its associated ...view middle of the document...

Young children are most likely to be asymptomatic. Of those who develop symptoms, most make a full recovery within a week. However, in one percent of cases, poliovirus spreads from the intestines to the nervous system destroying nerve cells in the spinal cord and the base of the brain. Poliovirus in the nervous system leads to paralytic polio—the most devastating form of the disease. The onset of paralysis can be rapid, but the severity depends on the number of neurons affected. There is no cure for the disease, and victims may be left with permanent consequences from their illness. Post-polio syndrome may affect polio survivors, even those with benign initial manifestations, years after recovery from their initial insult. Although rarely life-threatening, post-polio syndrome results in weakening of previously affected muscles causing significant interference with the individual's ability to function independently.
Polio in the United States: FDR, public awareness and development of the vaccine.
By the early twentieth century, there were major polio epidemics in Europe and the United States. People exposed to poliovirus were conferred immunity even if they were asymptomatic. Improvements in sanitation resulted in reduced fecal contamination of water and food sources, thereby diminishing exposure to the poliovirus and decreasing immunity. As the nation challenged itself to improve the living conditions for its citizens, it unintentionally led to the epidemic spread of polio. The disease once considered an affliction of the poor who lived in crowded, filthy tenements, now affected all elements of the society, including the wealthy and the powerful.
In 1921, at the age of thirty-nine, Franklin Delano Roosevelt a prominent New York politician from a patrician family, was left paralyzed from the waist down by the poliovirus. Roosevelt, struggling to accept the limitations thrust upon him, tried multiple rehabilitation therapies. As an astute politician, Roosevelt recognized that people with visible disabilities were viewed as inferior. The President of the United States, one of the most powerful men in the world, was expected to be able-bodied, so Roosevelt hid his disability from the public during his campaign for the presidency and while he held office. To create this illusion, Roosevelt prohibited photographs of him in his wheelchair or walking with crutches. In spite of purposeful deception by failing to publicly embrace his own disabilities, Roosevelt brought the treatment and prevention of polio as well as the accommodation of the disabled to the limelight. Roosevelt, unintentionally, championed the disability rights movement by achieving political success despite his significant physical limitations.
Prior to the twentieth century, most rehabilitation efforts focused on injured soldiers returning from war. Unlike the select few injured in combat, the profound and ubiquitous crippling effects of polio (resulted in) heightened...

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