Prevalence of polio, 1912–1969 Since the early 1900s, we have been indoctrinated to believe that polio was a highly prevalent and contagious disease. Graph 12.1 depicts the incidence of various diseases in the United States between 1912 and 1970. Poliomyelitis is the line (with square points) at the bottom and reveals that the incidence was very low when compared to that of other infectious diseases. Polio has also been portrayed as a vicious crippler in the early and mid-1900s when it was habitually diagnosed by doctors who used a very loose Photo 12.1: George Clark walks on crutches and heavy braces.
He had polio attack last April. (1956)
The “Disappearance” of Polio 7 definition of the disease.
This graph denotes rates of clinical disease, most of which resolved and left no residual paralysis at all. Given what a low-incidence disease it was, how did polio come to be perceived as such an infamous monster? This is a question worthy of consideration, especially in light of the fact that the rate was far less than other common diseases, some of which declined in incidence to nearly zero with no vaccine at all. Those who still embody a fear of polio may argue that polio was a monster because it crippled people, especially children. But it was later revealed, after a vaccine was lauded for the eradication of polio, that much of the crippling was related to factors other than poliovirus, and those factors could not possibly have been affected by any vaccine.
Dr. Archie Kalokerinos, a medical doctor who spent his career tending to the aboriginal people of Australia, was told repeatedly by the elders that the tribes had no disease until the white men arrived and that they didn’t even have names for these diseases. 10 Although Dr. Sabin was simply puzzled about the clean and advanced parts of the world getting sick, he failed to connect the rate of paralysis to easily identifiable factors. Examining what changed in the environment and the human diet and how that clearly affected the susceptibility to paralysis in developed areas is key to understanding polio.
The white man’s diet of refined and processed foods with the resultant lack of vitamins, the environmental and agricultural poisons, and specific invasive medical procedures, all contributed to the rise in susceptibility of people living in industrialized parts of the world. But by the time those connections were made, disease causing food was well ingrained in the modern palate. Medical advances were met with gratitude even though many of them were dangerous and overused. Refined sugar, white flour, alcohol, tobacco, tonsillectomies, vaccines, antibiotics, DDT, and arsenic had become financial golden calves that led humanity blindly down a spiral of disease and misery.Unfortunately, the paralysis was uniformly attributed to poliovirus infections which thus justified and prioritized vaccine research at all costs. Many thousands of people were needlessly paralyzed because the medical system refused to look at the consequences of these golden calves, gave only lip service to the success of the Sister Kenny treatment of paralysis (discussed later in this chapter), and concentrated solely on vaccine research.