There’s a manual that every Navy gunnery officer was required to read or re-read every year: OP 1014; Ordnance Safety Precautions: Their Origin and Necessity. It’s a collection of stories about, and photographs of, spectacular accidents involving big guns and ammunition. Gun turrets that have fired on other gun turrets on the same ship. Holes in the coral where ammunition ships were formerly anchored. That sort of thing. It’s simultaneously grim and fascinating.
Nowadays there’s some kind of movement afoot for claiming that immunizations against common childhood diseases are unnecessary. That they cause disease. That they’re harmful. It is true that rare adverse reactions to immunizations occur. It is also true that adverse reactions to the diseases themselves are not at all rare if you don’t immunize. So let’s call this post Immunizations: Their Origin and Necessity.
Still, we have people fighting against immunizations. Observe:
Kids Vaccinations in general
I suppose that depends on whether you feel “Didn’t have to buy a teeny-tiny headstone” is an advantage.
The link between autism and immunization was based on faked research by a man who stood to profit if MMR was discredited. It has been completely exploded.
Let’s look at those diseases.
|IN MEMORY OF MARY S. DAUGHTER OF CAPT. SAMUEL AND BETSEY TILLOTSON SHE DIED DEC 11TH 1819 AGED 9 MOS.|
In the USA, 4,480 liver disease deaths per year are due to hepatitis B virus. Another 3,000 deaths per year in the USA are Hepatocellular carcinoma deaths due to hepatitis B.
Acute Hep B is usually fully cured, fairly quickly. The folks with chronic Hepatitis B are generally people who caught it as children, manifesting years later. The signs and symptoms of hep B include:
Hepatitis B infection may be either acute — lasting less than six months — or chronic, lasting six months or longer. If the disease is acute, your immune system is usually able to clear the virus from your body, and you should recover completely within a few months. When your immune system can’t fight off the virus, HBV infection may become lifelong, possibly leading to serious illnesses such as cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Most people who acquire hepatitis B as adults have an acute infection. But the outlook isn’t nearly as hopeful for infants and children. Most infants infected with HBV at birth and many children infected between 1 and 5 years of age become chronically infected. Chronic infection may go undetected for decades until a person becomes seriously ill from liver disease.
Why should I vaccinate my newborn child if I know that I am not infected with hepatitis B virus?
Before the hepatitis B virus vaccine, every year in the United States about 18,000 children were infected with hepatitis B virus by the time they were 10 years old. This statistic is especially important because people are much more likely to develop liver cancer or cirrhosis if they are infected early in life, rather than later in life (most people are infected with hepatitis B virus when they are adolescents and young adults).
About 9,000 of the 18,000 children infected in the first 10 years of life caught the virus from their mother during birth. However, many young children didn’t catch the disease from their mother. They caught it from either another family member or someone else who comes in contact with the child. Because the disease can be transmitted by casual contact, and because many people who are infected with hepatitis B virus don’t know that they have it, it is virtually impossible to be “careful enough” to avoid this infection.
For these reasons, all young children are recommended to receive the hepatitis B vaccine. The best time to receive the first dose is right after birth. This will ensure that the child will be protected as early as possible from catching the disease from someone that doesn’t know that they are infected with the virus.
Let’s talk about the immune system a little bit. This will be a super-simplified overview.
Essentially, the immune system is what keeps us from rotting while we’re still alive. And it does this by being able to tell “us” from “not us” down at the cellular level and destroying the “not us” stuff. Most of us have immune systems that can do this. (Folks who can’t tell “us” from “not us” have their own immune systems attacking them and are said to have auto-immune diseases. Folks who can’t tell “not us” from “us” can’t defend themselves against invaders, and are said to be immunocompromised. This can be either from disease process, or done deliberately, for example in folks who have received organ transplants to keep them from rejecting their foreign tissues.)
You must know that all cells, including our body’s cells, and the cells of bacteria, are made of protein, and the exterior capsule of a virus is also made of protein. And proteins have shapes. The way the body recognizes us from not-us is by the shapes of the proteins.
Specialized blood cells, white cells, go around testing things for their protein shapes. When they find things that don’t belong, they destroy them.
Early in an infection, foreign proteins may not be recognized as “not us.” The viruses or bacteria use this time window to multiply, perhaps beyond the level that the body can cope with. But once the body has been sensitized to the unique protein shapes associated with specific invaders, it remembers them, it produces antibodies specific to them, and if that shape ever appears again is ready to instantly overwhelm the foreign proteins.
If the body’s defenses are so tuned that they destroy the foreign proteins before any signs or symptoms develop, the person is said to be immune.
|DANIEL H. TILLOTSON SON OF SAMUEL & BETSEY TILLOTSON DIED AUGUST 9, 1813 AGED 1 YEAR 8 MONTHS|
Polio is the reason the Iron Lung was invented.
Most people who catch polio don’t get sick and are never aware that they were infected. Nevertheless, they can still shed the virus for others to catch for several weeks or months. Photo. Photo. Photo.
Of those who are symptomatic, most show vague flu-like symptoms (e.g. fever, headache, sore throat) associated with any number of viral diseases.
5-10% of those infected develop nonparalytic aseptic meningitis. This lasts from two to ten days. Signs and symptoms include:
In paralytic polio, the most common form is spinal polio. In children under five, this most commonly results in paralysis of one limb; in adults paralysis of both arms or both legs is most common. Limb paralysis can occur in any combination, however, and paralysis of the muscles that allow breathing is also possible. It used to be that everyone knew someone who’d been affected; one of my sister’s classmates, for example.
There’s bulbar polio. In bulbar polio, the brainstem is infected, and the cranial nerves are affected. These nerves control your ability to eat, speak, and breathe; seeing, hearing, taste, may be affected, as may the heart, lungs, and digestion.
Ten to forty years after a polio infection, the patient can develop post-polio syndrome. This includes sleep-related breathing disorders, muscle weakness, joint pain, and difficulty with breathing or swallowing. Doyle’s mother has post-polio syndrome. Of polio itself, all she remembers is having to learn how to walk—twice.
Perhaps the best-known polio victim was president Franklin Roosevelt. Used to be that everyone knew at least one person who’d been partly paralyzed by polio. Not so much, now. Wild polio was eradicated in the Americas in 1999. But polio could come back at any time if the immunization rate drops. Polio spreads via the fecal-oral route.
Way back in the 18th century, Edward Jenner noticed that milkmaids generally didn’t catch smallpox. What Jenner didn’t (and couldn’t) know at the time was that the surface proteins of cowpox are similar enough to the surface proteins of smallpox that the antibodies specific to one also protected against the other. What he could, and did, notice was that an infection with cowpox translated into an immunity to smallpox.
Jenner published An inquiry into the causes and effects of the Variolae Vaccinae, a disease discovered in some of the western counties of England, particularly Gloucestershire, and known by the name of the cow-pox, in 1798. He called deliberately infecting someone with cowpox in order to grant immunity to smallpox “vaccination” after the Latin word for cow, vacca.
The practice of vaccination caught on rapidly. Still, there was opposition:
Christian Charles Schieferdecker, M.D.
Dr. C. G. G. Nittinger’s Evils of Vaccination.
Philadelphia: the editor, 1856.
Because of the lack of clear scientific explanation of its effects, the frequent side-effects, and contaminated vaccines, vaccination itself remained controversial throughout the nineteenth century. It certainly carried risks for the infants being vaccinated, and this volume, playing on parental fears, argued, inter alia, that vaccination was nonsensical, unscientific, criminal, and even sinful. Shown here is a satiric vignette of a protective mother’s discussion with the family doctor.
|IN MEMORY OF CARLOS SON OF CAPT. SAMUEL AND BETSEY TILLOTSON WHO DIED NOV THE 4, 1818 AGED 5 YRS|
Here’s a nasty. Diphtheria is highly contagious and potentially life-threatening. Signs and symptoms include the lining of the throat turning into a thick, gray, moist membrane that can block breathing, requiring either intubation or a tracheostomy. The bacteria also creates a toxin that that circulates in the blood stream and can damage the heart and kidneys, and cause nerve damage leading to paralysis. Before the diphtheria immunization became common, the United States had some 200,000 cases and 15,000 deaths per year from the disease, 80% of them children. Post-immunization: 41 total reported cases in the US from 1980 to 1995.
Early signs and symptoms include:
When the diphtheria anti-toxin was first used successfully in Berlin, Germany, Christmas 1891, it was the first time any disease anywhere had actually been cured. Up until then, all that medicine had ever been able to do was support a patient until that patient’s own immune system either worked—or didn’t.
Diphtheria is why Balto, The Bravest Dog Ever, has his statue in Central Park, and why the Iditarod is run every year, in memory of the run that brought diphtheria anti-toxin to Nome.
Diphtheria doesn’t just kill; it kills grotesquely (“bull neck”).
She wrung her hands and groaned and cried— Wicked Polly
And gnawed her tongue before she died.
Her nails turned black, her voice did fail
She died and left this lower vale.
By the second half of the 19th century, the germ theory of disease was gaining ground. Robert Koch, the German bacteriologist, came up with some requirements of what would be necessary to show that a particular bacterium caused a particular disease.
First, the same bacterium had to be found in every victim of the disease.
Second, the bacterium had to be cultured, and when the culture was given to healthy patients, they had to develop the disease.
Third, each of those patients had to be cultured, and the same organism again recovered.
Louis Pasteur was trying this with chicken cholera. With one batch of chickens he used an old culture. The experiment failed: none of the chickens got sick. He tried again with a fresh, strong culture. The experiment failed again; still those chickens didn’t get sick. Even though the same fresh culture was sure-enough sickening other chickens who hadn’t previously gotten doses of old, dead bacteria.
“Holy Mackerel!” Pasteur said (or words to that effect in French), “I think I may be on to something.”
He called his process of creating immunity by inoculation with killed or weakened pathogens “vaccination” in honor of Jenner’s pioneering work with smallpox.
|HULDAH DAUGHTER OF IRENE AND EBENEZER KNAPP BORN JUNE 18, 1811 DIED FEB 21, 1813|
The course of the disease runs like this: One to two weeks of symptoms that resemble the common cold, followed by two to four weeks of severe coughing. What do I mean by severe? I mean coughing so hard that it can break ribs, cause cerebral hemorrhage, rectal prolapse, or seizures due to hypoxia. I’m talking about vomiting and aspirating the vomitus. That kind of coughing. Complications include pneumonia. Following that stage comes a recovery stage that can last months.
Pertussis was once a leading cause of infant mortality. Between the 1930s, when immunizations became available, and the 1970s, the rate of pertussis in the USA fell 99%.
In England, the percentage of people vaccinated over the last 4 decades decreased to less than 30%. This decline has resulted in thousands of cases reported recently, a rate that approaches the incidence in the prevaccination era. Similar epidemic outbreaks have recently occurred in Sweden, Canada, and Germany. Nearly 300,000 deaths from pertussis in Africa are thought to have occurred over the last decade.Since the seventies, as rates of vaccination have gone down, the pertussis rate has been rising again, with a spike of 25,000+ cases in 2005. Pertussis is the most commonly reported vaccine-preventable disease in the United States in children younger than 5 years. It is highly contagious. Pertussis can be treated with antibiotics, and with mechanical ventilation and suctioning. Untreated, it has a mortality rate of around 50%.
Community immunity (AKA “herd immunity”) is when so many people are immune to a disease that the disease has no way to reach the rare non-immune patient. Think of those immune individuals as firebreaks. Enough firebreaks and the fire just won’t spread. And there will always be individuals who aren’t immune, no matter how rigorous the immunization schedules: Some will be immuno-compromised. There will be others for whom the immunization doesn’t “take.” Yet others will be unable to receive the immunization due to allergies. But enough firebreaks and they’ll be protected too, by the “herd”—the disease will have no way to reach them.
Pertussis is one of the diseases for which community immunity works well. Its only transmission route is human-to-human (by airborne droplets). But in order to develop community immunity between 92% and 94% of the population must be immune. Among those who are not immune: on average one index case creates 12-17 other cases.
Since Pertussis only exists in humans, like smallpox, it could be eliminated in the wild by sufficiently complete immunization.
|CAROLINE DAUGHTER OF IRENE AND EBENEZER KNAPP BORN OCT 27, 1807 DIED JAN 27, 1808|
Community immunity won’t help you with tetanus (AKA “lockjaw”). The bacteria that cause tetanus are common in the environment. Any contaminated wound can have a nice case of tetanus associated.
Tetanus causes prolonged contractions of the skeletal muscles. That’s what locks the ol’ jaw. That’s also what can bend you over backwards like a bow until you’re supported by just your heels and your head. (Photo) (Another photo) (Painting) (Child with tetanus, Photo) (Infant with tetanus, Photo)
I’ll fix your feet til you can’t walk— O Death
I’ll lock your jaw til you can’t talk
I’ll close your eyes so you can’t see
This very hour, come and go with me
I’m death I come to take the soul
Leave the body and leave it cold
To draw up the flesh off of the frame
Dirt and worm both have a claim
Signs and symptoms may include:
Tetanus is life-threatening. Once the patient is symptomatic, in the US, the mortality rate is 25%. Worldwide it’s 50%.
We routinely inquire about a patient’s tetanus immunization status any time a tetanus-prone wound shows up, and routinely give the immunization any time the patient isn’t 100% sure he/she has had the shot within the past five years.
One of the early signs of tetanus is the rictus sardonicus, a smile like the Joker in the comic books. A highly accurate (and highly specific) test for tetanus is this: tickle the back of the patient’s throat with a tongue depressor. If the patient coughs, gags, or chokes, that’s negative. If, on the other hand, the patient bites down on the tongue depressor, that’s a positive: he’s got lockjaw.
If you have a deep or dirty wound, particularly a puncture wound, get it seen in an Emergency Room. If you have a wound and subsequently start feeling muscle cramps in the area … get to an Emergency Room now. We have people standing by.
|“L. B.” IN MEMORY OF LYMAN SON OF MR. JACOB AND MRS. ABIGAIL BLACK WHO DIED SEPT 10TH 1801 AGED 6 YRS 10 MONTHS 23 DA|
Haemophilus influenzae type B
This is the disease that inspired this post. The news story read, Rare sickness kills child; officials urge vaccination
A childhood illness that has mostly been curbed through vaccinations has killed one child and sickened four others in Minnesota, health officials said Friday.
The five children were infected with a bacterial infection known as Hib: Haemophilus influenzae type b.
Three of the affected children had not received any vaccinations, including the 7-month-old who died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The situation is of concern,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease at the CDC. “It could be happening elsewhere, and of course it’s tragic that one of the children actually died from a preventable disease.”
One of the infected children, a 5-month old, had not completed the three-dose series of the vaccination, and a 15-month old child had received all doses but had an immune deficiency.
Before the immunization was developed, 43 per 100,000 children got meningitis associated with Hib.
Of those 43, 20% would die. 8.6 out of those 43. One in five.
So, you see, five sick and one dead falls right into the expected mortality rate. It’s a mortality rate that’s worse than you’d get playing Russian Roulette (where the odds are one in six that you’ll die).
How about the ones who get Hib meningitis and don’t die?
15%-30% of survivors suffer some permanent neurologic damage, including blindness, deafness, and mental retardation.
Another 17% of invasive Hib cases include epiglottitis, an infection and swelling in the throat that can cause life-threatening airway blockage. Other forms of invasive Hib disease include: joint infection (8%), skin infection (6%), pneumonia (15%), and bone infection (2%).
With Hib vaccine, the rate of Hib meningitis is 0.11 per 100,000.
|JOHN N. SON OF JOHN AND MARY HUBBARD DIED MARCH 21, 1836 AGED 1 YR (8 MO 1 DA)|
Complications of measles are comparatively rare. But given that measles’ infection rate is around 90%, a small percent of a large number is still a large number. And in third-world countries, the fatality rate for measles runs around 28%. Among immuno-compromised folks right here, measles is around 30% fatal. (That’s where community immunity comes in handy—if the immuno-compromised folks never run into measles because everyone else is immune, they skate.) Photo. Photo. Photo.
Measles is comparatively mild in children; it can be devastating in adults. The 1911 measles epidemic killed 5% of the US Army.
And even “comparatively mild” is still nothing to laugh at. Those complications can include blindness and deafness from scarring. In The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew the children all get the measles, and there’s quite a bit of concern that Polly will go blind.
But Polly’s eyes didn’t get any better, with all the care; and the lines of worry on Mrs. Pepper’s face grew deeper and deeper. At last, she just confronted Dr. Fisher in the kitchen, one day after his visit to Polly, and boldly asked him if they ever could be cured. “I know she’s—and there isn’t any use keeping it from me,” said the poor woman—“she’s going to be stone-blind!”
“My good woman,” Dr. Fisher’s voice was very gentle; and he took the hard, brown hand in his own—“your little girl will not be blind; I tell you the truth; but it will take some time to make her eyes quite strong—time, and rest. She has strained them in some way, but she will come out of it.”
To poor Polly, lying in the darkened room, or sitting up in the big rocking-chair—for Polly wasn’t really very sick in other respects, the disease having all gone into the merry brown eyes—the time seemed interminable. Not to do anything! The very idea at any time would have filled her active, wide-awake little body with horror; and now, here she was!
Signs and symptoms of measles include:
In 2007, there were 197,000 measles deaths globally - nearly 540 deaths every day or 22 deaths every hour, mostly children under the age of five.
It remains a leading cause of death among young children globally, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine.
BETSEY HUBBARD DIED JULY 17, 1799 AGED 9 MO 5 DS|
EBER DIED OCT 27, 1802 AGED 7 MO 16 DS
LUCINDA DIED AUG 29, 1810 AGED 1 YR 2 MO 20 DS
HARRIET DIED JAN 22, 1820 AGED 6 YR 4 MO 6 DS
PETER B. DIED MAR 10, 1820 AGED 9 MO 8 DS
CHILDREN OF PETER & POLLY HUBBARD
Mumps is caused by a virus. The usual route of transmission is through droplets (coughing and sneezing). Photo. Photo. The most common presentation is a parotitis (inflammation of the major salivary glands located on either side of the face), which occurs in 30-40% of patients. Other reported sites of infection are the testes, pancreas, eyes, ovaries, central nervous system, joints, and kidneys.
Serious complications are more common in adults.
One of the objections to the germ theory of disease was that not everyone who’s exposed to the germs gets sick. (Some debunkers deliberately ingested pure cultures of disease germs with no ill effects and used this as proof that germs don’t cause illness.) But it isn’t necessary for everyone to become ill for a contagious disease to be a serious public health problem. In order to have a pandemic as few as 15-40% of the population need to be affected.
|VIANA DAUGHTER OF ASA & MARGARET ANDREWS DIED SEPT 2, 1823 AGED 2 YEARS|
Mild in children (a rash, low-grade fever, and aching joints), rubella (AKA German measles, three-day measles) is devastating in pregnant women.
In the first trimester, there’s a 90% chance that rubella would pass from the pregnant woman to her fetus, causing congenital rubella syndrome (CRS). In 20% of cases this results in spontaneous abortion.
Among those born alive:
Signs and symptoms in the infant may include:
It is important for women to become immune to rubella before they reach child-bearing age. Herd immunity is also important to protect those who are either not immune or whose immunity is not complete. Photo. Photo.
Rubella is a virus; it is transmitted by contact or airborne droplets.
If you are pregnant and suspect you have rubella, do not visit your OB/GYN directly. Call ahead, to avoid contact with other pregnant women.
HIRAM BORN JAN 14, 1827 DIED FEB 14, 1827|
CHESTER G. BORN MAY 5, 1832 DIED FEB 19, 1833
EMELINE BORN MARCH 24, 1825 DIED FEB 21, 1833
SUSAN BORN APRIL 14, 1836 DIED DEC 10, 1836
CHILDREN OF HIRAM & EMILY TAYLOR
Chicken pox (AKA varicella). A red itchy rash marked with blisters, low-grade fever, and aching joints that lasts for a few days. The rash appears primarily on the torso. Caused by a virus and spread by droplets or direct contact. Photo. Photo. Photo.
When a woman who is not immune catches chicken pox any time during pregnancy, but particularly in the first 28 weeks of pregnancy, the virus can infect her fetus, resulting in fetal varicella syndrome:
Maternal infection at any time in pregnancy exposes the fetus to a high risk of transplacental contamination and is indicative of fetal follow-up. The risk of fetal anomalies, however, is higher during the first and second trimesters. Sonographic signs of fetal disease include fetal demise, growth restriction, musculoskeletal abnormalities such as clubfeet and abnormal position of the hands (caused by both necrosis and denervation of the affected tissue), limitation of limb extension due to cicatrices formation, cutaneous scars, limb hypoplasia, chorioretinitis, congenital cataracts, microphthalmia, hydrops, polyhydramnios, hyperechogenic hepatic foci, cerebral anomalies such as ventriculomegaly or atrophy, and microcephaly, disseminated foci of necrosis and microcalcifications, encephalitis, echogenic bowel in the second trimester. The placenta can show a multifocal chronic villitis with multinucleated giant cells. Fetal infection can be demonstrated by detection of varicella-zoster virus DNA by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in fetal blood and amniotic fluid or by detection of the specific IgM antibody, in the same fluids.
You don’t want that, now do you?
Immunization prevents it.
Chicken pox is the gift that keeps on giving. It never goes away—it just becomes inactive living along the nerve pathways in the body. It can return in the form of shingles later on, when the patient is under stress, immunocompromised, or otherwise has reduced resistance.
People who have had chickenpox (varicella zoster) in their youth can develop shingles (herpes zoster) in later years. During an acute attack of the chickenpox virus, most of the viral organisms are destroyed, but some survive, travel up nerve fibers along the spine, and lodge in nerve cells where they may lie dormant for many years. A decrease in the body’s resistance can cause the virus to reawaken decades later. It then travels back down the nerve fibers to the skin’s surface. Photo. Photo. Photo.
The reawakened virus generally causes a vague burning sensation or tingling over an area of skin. A painful rash usually occurs two to five days after the first symptoms appear. A cluster of small bumps (1) turns into blisters (2) that resemble chickenpox lesions. The blisters fill with pus, break open (3), crust over (4), and finally disappear. This process takes four to five weeks.
A painful condition called post-herpetic neuralgia can sometimes occur. This condition is thought to be caused by damage to the nerves (5), and can last from weeks to years after the rash disappears.
HERE LIE TWO SONS OF ELIJAH & MABEL
ELISHA DIED OCT 21, 1802 AGED 1 YR & 5 MONTHS
RICHARD DIED OCT 25, 1797 AGED 2 YRS & 1 MONTH
Why do we immunize? Because if we don’t…these diseases come back.
My mother had polio as a small child, and late in life developed post-polio syndrome. During WWII, she was working as liaison engineer for the Army Air Corps at a Douglas Aircraft factory outside Chicago when there was an outbreak of polio and a shortage of nurses because of the war…and power outages that meant more people were needed to hand pump the iron lungs that kept the most severely disabled alive. There was an emergency call for anyone with nurse’s training (which she also had.) She left the factory, and her boss threatened her—she was, after all, on a defense contract. “If it were your wife or child in that ward?” She worked long shifts at the hospital until the worst was over.— http://webnews.sff.net/read?cmd=read&group=sff.people.elizabeth-moon&artnum=143531 archived February 2009
Polio was the terror of my early childhood…in bad years, we had “block quarantines” when children were not supposed to leave the block on which they lived. (And we sometimes did and we got in big trouble for it, if caught, which we always were.) One of my good friends in first and second grade had had polio and had the heavy leg braces and crutches; she was in my Brownie troop. When a second-grade teacher came down with polio, when I was in first grade, many of the children in that school (including me) were given gamma globulin shots, then the only “maybe” preventive. It hurt like anything—huge shot, bigger than a penicillin shot. Didn’t matter.
We had outbreaks yearly, where I grew up, and big ones on occasion. When I was five, and again when I was seven, I was sent to Colorado to escape the local outbreak, on the grounds that a cabin 12 miles from the nearest town might be safer, the air and water purer. But the second year, a Scout camp had been built upstream of the cabin on the same river, and the water was definitely not purer. Every child knew about polio. Every child (let alone the parents) had seen the pictures of polio wards, the rows of children in wheel chairs and braces, the rows of iron lungs with just heads sticking out. Every child knew someone who had died, or been crippled, by polio. Every family collected dimes for the March of Dimes; in school we were given worksheets to stick them on, and the Mothers of the Mother’s March handed out similar cards with little pockets. (Yes, mothers did actually march through the streets, and go door to door to collect donations.)
The year before the vaccine came out two children in one family came down with polio the day after a swimming party I’d been to. I will never forget my mother’s face as she turned to look at me—still holding the receiver—and said harshly “Put your chin on your chest!” (A test of nuchal rigidity, this was a command every child in that era knew.) She was terrified. Though the children had only shown clear symptoms that day, they would’ve been contagious the day before. One boy died; the other had permanent disabilities. Back in the day, no accommodations were made for disabled children in school—many kids with polio sequelae were sent to residential facilities where they did get schooling, because local schools routinely excluded kids with disabilities.
Every febrile illness in summer was suspect. Every febrile illness after children had played in water (in the street, for instance, if it rained, or in a swimming pool) was suspect. I had a different serious illness, an encephalitis, and at first it was thought it might be polio (and I’m sure other mothers, hearing that I was sick, told their children to “put your chin on your chest.”)
Then came the vaccines—first the Salk, then then Sabin. Three shots for the Salk, one or two weeks apart: they lined us up in the halls of a school, and bang-bang-bang it was done. Then a year or two later, we had another series of three shots. By then, the outbreaks were noticeably smaller. In five years, hardly a new case—a new case was news.
That didn’t cure those who’d already had it. When I went off to college, I did some volunteer work in a children’s hospital. There was only one polio patient: one of the last cases, then a teenager, in an iron lung. By then there were no more specialty polio centers, no more polio wards, in which at least the inhabitants could talk to someone who understood. In a ward for children, where the other patients were kids who’d had some other treatable illness or injuries, there was his iron lung. He wanted no part of the cheerfulness we tried to bring to the ward.
And no wonder. Unless he could adapt to one of the smaller respiratory assists that came later, he was stuck for life in a huge, unwieldy, scary case…immobile, having to be tended by people who reached in through portholes on the side to clean him up, change his diaper…and who, increasingly, would not have a clue what his life was like because people like him were so few now. He could not see his body, engulfed in the machine that kept him alive. He could see only what was directly above him or reflected in the mirror over his head. None of the electronic aids for the disabled existed then…or for another decade or two.
There were, and are, more lethal diseases than polio: those with a higher mortality, and greater infectivity as well. But polio had a special horror to it.
Copyright © 2009 by James D. Macdonald
I am not a physician. I can neither diagnose nor prescribe. This post is presented for entertainment purposes only. Nothing here is meant to be advice for your particular condition or situation.
Why We Immunize by James D. Macdonald is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.
(Attribution URL: http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/010978.html)