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A Summer Plague: Polio and Its Survivors. By Toni Gould. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1995. Pp. 382, 33 photographs. $30.00. Polio is the American disease. The world's worst epidemic was in New York in 1916. Roosevelt, father and politician, was struck down at 39. He overcame not only severe physical disability but also despair to become president of the United States and leader of the free world. The March ofDimes used the world's most imaginative fund-raising to help polio victims and to fund research programs which eventually led to the successful vaccines. Some of the most colorful personalities were involved: a wonderful story to tell. Tony Gould, a young Englishman, had been drafted to Hong Kong as an officer with die Gurkhas when he was struck with polio in 1958. As with so many others who have had polio, his disability acted as a spur, and he has made a successful career, including die writing of this book which is essentially about America. Although there have been several good books about polio, they have concentrated on the dramatic stories of the research or on personal stories of recovery. Gould has combined both strands to good effect, and he also reveals two little discussed issues. FDR convalesced at Warm Springs in Georgia, bought the hotel and its grounds, and turned it into a center for the after-treatment of polio. Blacks were not admitted—except as servants—and eventually a separate facility was opened in Tuskegee, Alabama. We trust doctors, nurses, and carers to be warm, selfless, and kind, especially with sick and frightened children. It therefore comes as a shock, even today when child abuse is in die headlines, to learn of the sadistic treatment some young polio children received, treatment vividly remembered by adults who told their stories to Gould. Many of the people associated with polio were strong characters, and some were not easy to work with: Rivers, O'Connor, Sabin, SaIk, and Sister Kenny from Australia . Gould writes of the animosity between Sabin and SaIk, while emphasizing the intellectual divide between those advocating the inactivated and the attenuated vaccines . Now that both are dead, should we not accept that anyone with the courage to use polio vaccines in children was almost certainly a difficult person? Other, nicer people made polio vaccines, but only Sabin, SaIk, and Koprowski made the final leap to children. My first view of Sabin was at a meeting where he demolished a young doctor who had several times failed to clarify a crucial question. My second was in Ankara, where he was the guest of honor giving a paper about the role of herpes virus in cancer of the cervix. I was rash enough to disagree with him, expecting a broadside. Instead, we talked afterwards. Polio attracted some of the best workers in the first half of the century. Although events are rarely repeated, history can inspire us, and there are lessons to be learnt. Simon Flexner, at the Rockefeller Institute in New York, provided the rock of respectable research on polio, but it was a rock on which die opposing ideas of the Scandinavian workers were wrecked for many years. Flexner was wrong. Moreover, the accepted treatment for polio was rigid splinting ofthe affected limbs. Sister Kenny, who had no formal training as a nurse, used hot packs to ease the pain and began exercising the limbs immediately. She too was an abrasive person, but she succeeded against orthodoxy. The history ofpolio includes several episodes where chemical treatment and vaccines were used without a full understanding of the pathology of the disease or the proposed treatment. In the last 20 years of this Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 39, 3 ¦ Spring 1996 465 century, AIDS is a scourge equivalent to that of polio in the first 60 years. Let us learn from polio: Difficult people may be right, orthodoxy may be wrong, and great names may be wrong. Although it is used in only a few countries, SaIk lived to see his vaccine available in a purified form which eliminated the danger that some virions might have escaped inactivation. Sabin knew that the Americas were certified free...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 465-466
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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