Brief History of Polio
Few diseases frightened parents in the early-20th century more than polio. It often struck in the warmer summer months, sweeping through cities and towns in epidemics every few years. Polio (short for poliomyelitis) is an acute paralytic disease. It’s an enterovirus, meaning it is a ribonucleic acid (RNA) virus that enters the body through the gastrointestinal tract where it thrives, but it can move to the nervous system. It's transmitted through contact with people, by nasal and oral secretions, and by contact with contaminated feces. Polio virus enters the body through the mouth, multiplying along the way and especially in the digestive tract.
Polio has existed since ancient times and was documented in the written record in the 18th and 19th centuries. There are three wild types of polio virus (types 1-3), which are naturally-occurring and non-mutated strains.
Scientists from the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Office of Biologics Research and Review (OBRR), which is what the biologics regulation team was called in the 1980s, continued investigating inactivated poliomyelitis vaccines, collaborating with others to investigate how inactivated vaccines could offer advantages in both cost and dosing schedules. They also made use of recent genetic technology in the assessment of the character of the vaccines. And along with the World Health Organization, the FDA developed international guidelines for testing live polio vaccine viruses.
Late in 1987, what was now called the FDA Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research licensed a more potent inactivated poliomyelitis vaccine. Improvements in cell culture and purification facilitated this new, more effective vaccine requiring three doses instead of four. This vaccine was preferred for unimmunized adults and for children with suppressed immune systems.
Although polio has no cure, as you will read in this timeline, vaccines have successfully eradicated polio in the western hemisphere since 1994.
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