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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Basic Biittner: The (not so) good old days

Monday, May 1, 2006

Aurelia native Eveline Will called me on Thursday to say that the recent cases of meningitis and mumps that have been in the news reminded her of a not-so-pleasant memory. Will was a young mother in the fall of 1952 when she was diagnosed with polio (also called infantile paralysis at that time). She was certainly not alone in her affliction. Sioux Valley Hospital actually had a "polio ward" with 19 patients that fall because there were so many cases - at least 39 cases were reported in Cherokee County alone.

Every issue of The Cherokee Daily Times in September 1952 had from two to four articles related to polio. During the week of September 20 - 26, for example, there were stories about: hospital admissions and discharges of "polios", a shortage of nurses, a polio benefit bake sale by the Jr. High class from the local Presbyterian church "with proceeds going to aid all polio sufferers in this area" , and the cancellation of the scheduled Wallace Brothers Circus performance due to the polio outbreak.

The first vaccine for polio, developed by Dr. Jonas Salk, was still two years away in 1952, and the primary "treatment" used at Sioux Valley in the fall of 1952 was the Sister Kenny Method, developed by Elizabeth Kenny, an Australian nurse. This method involved wrapping the patients in hot, steamy bandages or towels a couple of times a day. Will, a nurse herself, says it seemed like the towels had just been removed when the next one was applied. She had a successful recovery, with no severe after effects, but this was not always the case for others.

According to the University of Iowa, there were more than 10,000 cases of poliomyelitis diagnosed in the state of Iowa between 1948 and 1954. The peak year, by far, was that year of 1952, with 3564 caes. After the Salk vaccine was developed, reported cases were down to 25 by 1960, and in 1963 there were NO reported cases in Iowa. There are still occasional reported cases, but they are very rare.

So, while we often talk about the "Good Old Days", and, indeed there were many good things about those days, there were also some not-so-good things. Dr. Salk, who died in 1995, is rightly considered one of the most important and influential people of the twentieth century.

When some people complain about the cost of medical research, they should take a little time to consider some of the results of past research.

Dan Whitney
Basic Biittner