Polio Day is October 24, initiated over a decade ago by Rotary International to commemorate the birthday of Jonas Salk, who led the first team to develop a vaccine against poliomyelitis. Poliomyelitis, better known as polio, is a highly contagious, infectious disease caused by three types of poliovirus. The poliovirus destroys the nervous system causing paralysis. There are three different forms from the mildest to paralysis. The virus spreads most often from fecal-oral contact which usually occurs from poor hand washing of from consuming contaminated food or water. It can also be spread by sneezing or coughing.
The first recognized polio epidemic occurred in New Hampshire in 1874 with 132cases and 18 deaths. An epidemic broke out in New York City in 1916 causing more than 2,000 deaths. The epidemic spread through the country leaving 6,000 dead and thousands more paralyzed. In 1949, cases numbered 49,173. The virus infected 6,000 children in 1952, leaving thousands paralyzed and deaths numbering 3,000.
The iron lung was invented in 1927 by Philip Drinker. It could maintain respiration artificially for those who could not breathe on their own. Here in Marshfield, the first iron lung arrived in July 29, 1949. Many more would line the halls of St. Joseph Hospital. Dr. Tom Nikolai was a resident at the time and remembers vividly coming into the hospital at night and hearing the iron lungs pulsating.
On July 23, 1953, Jonas Salk announced that he had successfully tested a vaccine for polio. Ultimately, the vaccine would eradicate polio the United Sates. Polio would continue throughout the world, however. It was a far more difficult challenge to immunize the world’s population. Rotary International took up the task of a long journey to eradicate polio from the world.
In 1979, Rotary International received a grant so its members could immunize 5 million children in the Philippines. In 1985, Rotary launched the Polio Plus campaign. They set a goal of raising 120 million in five years. At that time, polio was killing 100 children per day.
Locally in 1987, Reed Hall as incoming Rotary president, advocated that the club should make a commitment to raising funds for the Polio Plus project. Nearly $100,000 was raised by the club on two separate occasions with financial commitments made every year to date by club members. Last year, both the Sunrise & Noon Rotary clubs worked together and partnered with the Buck-A-Neer Supper Club on the Pints for Polio event to raise funds above and beyond regular club contributions.
Polio Day is an opportunity to recognize the vast strides that Rotary has accomplished with only a few cases remaining in the world. To date, 2.5 billion children have received the vaccine. Only two countries remain that are not polio free, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Over the last couple of years, the last remaining iron lung that existed in Marshfield was restored by Heritage Museum staff and is on display at the Museum located in the lower level of the 2nd
Street Community Center. Kathleen Hasenohrl took care of the last polio patient at St. Joseph’s Hospital and has described her experiences, contributing to the preservation of the rich history of polio care in this community. You can read more about the evolution of this exhibit here
. The Museum is currently closed but will reopen as soon as the public health situation related to the Covid-19 virus allows.
For more information on Rotary International’s fight to end polio, please read more here.