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October 15, 1982

The Jamaica Ginger Paralysis

JAMA. 1982;248(15):1864-1867. doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03330150050022

AN EPIDEMIC of partial paralysis ultimately affecting 50,000 Americans became manifest in February 1930.1 Although this initial and most important phase of the epidemic ended by July 1930, a new group of people were poisoned in January 1931 under circumstances as bizarre as those a year earlier.2 I plan to review briefly the 50-year-old event, and the marking of that anniversary may be reason enough to command attention. However, I have two other goals. The toxin that caused the illness will not go away, and the most recent epidemic occurred in 1978. Additionally, in my first report of the "Jake Walk Blues,"3 I was unable to describe or identify the real culprits who provoked the massive poisoning. In the past few months, I was led to, and have now read, some 1,200 pages detailing the investigation of the adulterated Jamaica ginger extract written by the field staff of