A Polio History Quest

Not too many people remember polio anymore. Most who do are grandparents now, grandparents who back in the 1940s and 50s were caught up in the hysteria of summer after summer of polio epidemics. Parents then, they wouldn't let their children go to the beach, city swimming pool, or county fair out of fear that they might somehow contract the disease and be left crippled or, worse yet, confined to an iron lung for the rest of their lives. It was an enigmatic disease, appearing unpredictably and striking its victims, mostly children, with a frightening randomness.

Thankfully, polio is now an all-but-forgotten disease. Though there was never a cure, vaccination programs have eliminated polio from developed countries, and efforts by the World Health Organization have resulted in near worldwide eradication.

Yet polio's legacy remains. In 1977, the National Health Interview Survey reported that there were 254,000 persons living in the United States who had been paralyzed by polio, and the total number of polio survivors in this country may still exceed 600,000.  The number world-wide is probably in the tens of millions, many of whom must be experiencing polio's late effects.

Learn about the history and current status of this mysterious disease by using resources found on the Polio History Page to complete the Polio History Quest.

1. The word "polio" is a shortened form of the disease's actual name. What is that name?

2. What is at least one other name that has been used for this disease?

3. What causes polio?

4. In the "major disease" of polio, nerve cells are damaged, resulting in what?

5. The first major polio outbreak in the United States occurred in what year?

6. In what year was the polio virus first identified?

7. In 1921, this future president of the United States contracted polio and was left with little use of his legs. Can you name him?

8. The Meriwether Inn became a haven for polio survivors. In what Georgia town was it located?

9. In 1928, this device consisting of a pump and a large metal tank was developed to help polio survivors breathe. Some still use it today. What is it called?

10. Entertainer Eddie Cantor urged radio listeners to send their spare change to the White House to help in the fight against polio. What famous phrase did he use to describe this fund-raising effort?

11. Sister Elizabeth Kenny traveled to the United States in 1940. From what country did she come?

12. What procedures did Kenny use in treating polio patients?

12. At what famous medical clinic did Kenny first demonstrate these procedures?

14. How was Kenny described by those who met her?

15. In 1952, the United States suffered its worst polio epidemic. How many cases were there?

16. This physician and researcher was the first to develop a successful polio vaccine. What was his name?

17. On what date (month, day, and year) were the successful results of the field trials (tests) of this vaccine announced?

18. In 1962, a new oral polio vaccine was put into use in the United States. What was the name of the researcher who developed it?

19. In what ways was this new vaccine an improvement?

20. The number of polio cases reported in 1964 shows the success of this new vaccine. How many cases of polio were there in the United States during that year?

21. In the 1970s, many polio survivors started to report new and unexpected polio-related problems that began 30 or more years after they initially had polio. What name has been given to this syndrome?

22. What are the symptoms of this syndrome?

23. In 1988, the World Health Organization launched a campaign to rid the world of polio by the year 2000. What prevented this goal from being achieved?

24. Where can  information on cases and outbreaks of poliomyelitis be found?

Go to a more printable worksheet for the Polio History Quest.

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 This page is maintained by Edmund Sass, Ed. D. It was last updated March 16, 2014. You may e-mail him at esass@csbsju.edu