Sunday, October 24, 2010

October 24 - World Polio Day and Rotary International

World Polio Day and Rotary International

October 24 is a day that will come and go without notice to most people in the world. You will not see thousands of people wearing pink. You will not see the ribbons on peoples clothing. You will not see hundreds of races dedicated to raising money or awareness. But October 24 is a very special day. This day is World Polio Day.

What is polio? World Polio Day describes the virus as:

“Poliomyelitis (polio) is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It invades the nervous system, and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. It can strike at any age, but affects mainly children under three (over 50% of all cases). The virus enters the body through the mouth and multiplies in the intestine. Initial symptoms are fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the neck and pain in the limbs. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis (usually in the legs). Amongst those paralyzed, 5%-10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilized.

Once established in the intestines, poliovirus can enter the blood stream and invade the central nervous system - spreading along nerve fibres. As it multiplies, the virus destroys nerve cells (motor neurons) which activate muscles. These nerve cells cannot be regenerated and the affected muscles no longer function. The muscles of the legs are affected more often than the arm muscles. The limb becomes floppy and lifeless - a condition known as acute flaccid paralysis (AFP). More extensive paralysis, involving the trunk and muscles of the thorax and abdomen, can result in quadriplegia. In the most severe cases (bulbar polio), poliovirus attacks the motor neurons of the brain stem - reducing breathing capacity and causing difficulty in swallowing and speaking. Without respiratory support, bulbar polio can result in death.”

An Emerson iron lung

Few of us have ever seen or even heard of an Iron Lung ( This is a devise used during the 1940’s and 1950’s. “Large polio epidemics caused panic every summer during the 1940s and 50s in industrialized countries (US, Western Europe). At that time, people with polio affecting the respiratory muscles were immobilized inside "iron lungs" - huge metal cylinders that operated like a pair of bellows to regulate their breathing and keep them alive. Today, the iron lung has largely been replaced by the positive pressure ventilator; nevertheless, it is still in use in some countries. (” In the 1950’s whole hospital wards in the US were filled with iron lungs to treat polio victims.

Iron lung ward at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital  California (1953)

A Boston iron lung ward in the 1950s

Few of us have seen the pictures of the immobilized children who’s legs were paralyzed by the polio virus. Many of these children often required crutches, braces or wheelchairs to walk.

Many people still do not realize the US President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a polio victim who required a wheelchair to be mobile. Few pictures of him with his wheelchair exist and his illness was hidden from the public eye. To learn more about FDR struggle with polio here (

Polio victims at Scottish Rite Hospital, 1943

Most of us are too young to remember the horrible and crimpling polio virus. Most of us are even more luck to live in countries where polio has already been eradicated. We would not be this lucky if it was not for a world wide group called Rotary International (RI).

Rotary International is a world wide charitable organization with over 1.2 million members and 33,000 clubs. “Rotary club members are volunteers who work locally, regionally, and internationally to combat hunger, improve health and sanitation, provide education and job training, promote peace, and eradicate polio under the motto Service Above Self.”

Rotary International does thousands of charitable services but their main goal is the worldwide eradication of the Polio virus and so far they are doing a great job. There program to eradicate polio is called “Polio Plus.”

Since 1985 Rotary International raised over $800 MILLION to eradicate polio and it has raise almost $100 million in the past two years. Since 1985 the number of countries with polio cases has dropped from 125 to only 4.

Polio v/s Polio Victims (Polio In India)

The number of cases of polio since 1988 have dropped by 99%. There were approximately 350,000 reported cases in 1988 to a low of 483 cases in 2001, after which it has remained at a level of (about 1,000 cases per year (1,606 in 2009). (

If Rotary International is successful it will be only the second time humans have been able to eradicate a virus from the face of the planet. The only successful virus eradication thus far has been smallpox.

I am proud to be a member of Rotary International. I also have a family member who suffers from polio. So please take a moment today and learn a little more about polio. It is a horrible virus that I hope one day no one will ever have to suffer from. If you would like to make a difference please make a donation to Polio Plus For less than the price of a candy bar ($0.60 - $1.00 US) you can provide a child with a polio vaccination.

End Polio Now - The Last Hurdle

PBS Special on the history of polio in the US.


  1. wow, what a great post, i definitely learned alot!

  2. The most shocking thing about this post? I didn't realise that polio was still a health risk in *any* country -- I assumed that it had been completely eradicated..

  3. @Shannon: Thank you for the compliment.

    @Alison: Unfortunately, polio is alive in well but it ONLY exists in 4 countries. It will be eradicated before we die. It will be the second virus to ever be eradicated by humans. Pretty amazing.


  4. actually, people are afraid that sine we still ship and visit to countrys in africa and asia, that it will spread to near by countyrs. and theres now 6 cuntyrs that have active plio cases. ive bin studying this fr a while now, and i have fund everything i said multiple times.

  5. I know this is a really old post. I saw it when I was checking out the Kona robot (which is pretty cute!). I think this is awesome work! Will there be another one this year? My dad contracted polio when he was 11 months old. And if you can believe it, my father in law had polio too. What are the odds? My dad's was a much worse case and because of post polio syndrome he is now in a wheel chair full time. Any parents who are considering not vaccinating need to realize these diseases are still out there!!

  6. @Katie - Yes there will be another World Polio Day this year. You can find more info here and on the Rotary International website. Sorry to hear about your dad and father in law. My father in law also has polio. As a Rotarian we are constantly trying to eradicate polio. The good news is that one of the remaining contries that have polio just made it a crime to not give the vaccines to their children. If you are interested in helping you can always donate money on the Rotary International website or better yet join your local Rotary.