Imagine that your local sewage system broke down and you unwittingly used polluted water to cook, wash dishes, bathe, and drink. You hear the breaking news a day later because you have been too busy to read a newspaper or watch TV, and the first thought that comes to your mind is your child’s health. Fortunately, your child shows no symptom of illness. A few days later, however, your child suddenly develops a headache, neck with back and abdominal pain, fever, vomiting, lethargy, and irritability. Then, your child loses strength in his arms and legs. He can’t run, he can’t carry heavy objects, and he can’t even use a pencil or pen. Soon, your child is completely paralyzed. Without heroic medical care, your child may well die. Your child has polio.
Three generations ago in the United States, polio was one of the childhood illnesses that devastated so many previously healthy children and their families. The development, distribution, and subsequent eradication of polio stands as one of the truly great medical achievements of the twentieth century. The vaccines and their implementation have been so effective that the “wild polio virus” ( disease causing form found in nature) no longer exists in North America, South America, Europe, and 37 western Pacific countries. In 2012, new cases of children with polio were mainly seen in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afganistan. The world is on the verge of complete eradication of polio. Sensing imminent victory, scientists, governments, funding organizations, and the World Health Organization have set as their goal the elimination of all polio cases on earth! The near-eradication of polio worldwide reminds us of the importance of vaccinating our children. Polio was successfully eradicated in the United States only because most parents, beginning in the 1950’s, followed the advice of their pediatricians and local health experts and vaccinated their children. Let us hope that the current goal to eliminate all polio comes to fruition soon. Maybe your children’s children won’t even need to be vaccinated against polio, just as many of us didn’t need a smallpox vaccine. Wouldn’t that be nice!
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Written collaboratively by John Eun and Paul Smolen MD