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November 28, 1977

Polio—Out of Sight, Out of Mind

JAMA. 1977;238(22):2403-2404. doi:10.1001/jama.1977.03280230067029

An entire generation of Americans has grown up with only a faint concept of the meaning of the word poliomyelitis. Most physicians who began their medical practice after the mid-1950s have never seen a person with paralytic polio. In the major epidemic years of the 1940s and 1950s, as many as 50,000 or more cases of clinical polio, with many deaths, were reported. An even more grim aftermath was the thousands of children and young adults left (more or less) crippled. At one time, some 2,000 persons were permanent residents of the "iron-lung" respirators as a result of crippling polio.

But widespread use of polio vaccines since 1955 has resulted in the virtual elimination of paralytic poliomyelitis in the United States. The number of reported cases of paralytic poliomyelitis declined from more than 18,000 in 1954 to 32 cases in 1970 to only eight cases in 1976. The mass polio