It’s late on a Tuesday night when I get a call from a patient’s family member. Their father, now in his late 70’s, is having hard time breathing. He can’t lie down flat anymore to sleep at night. He has used oxygen at night for years and now needs CPAP (a machine that helps air be moved into your lungs while you sleep) just to fall asleep. I ask them to take him to the ER, but I have little hope.
Unfortunately, there is little I or anyone else can do to help him. He didn’t get this from years of smoking or some exposure at work. There are no medications that will help. There are no interventions that will do anything but postpone the inevitable. He is dying from a now preventable disease. He is dying from Polio.
He was born in the 1940’s. Just one decade before the Polio vaccine became available (1955). He lost his right arm to the disease as a young man and now as an old man will lose his ability to breath eventually.
You have probably never even heard of anyone with the disease, let alone know one personally. Since the vaccine became available in the United States and was used widely, we have been Polio free since about 1979.
But in the 1950’s, the disease was much more widespread. There were between 30,000 and 60,000 new cases of Polio each year. In 1952, there were 57,000 new cases and over 3000 deaths from Polio alone (CDC, Reported Cases and Deaths from Preventable Diseases, 1950-2013.)
Only a few years later, with a vaccine now available, the rates of the disease and deaths dropped to almost zero. That has been true of many of the vaccines now produced. The Polio vaccine has a success rate of over 99% and an exceptionally low risk of side effects.
As school starts again in the fall, review with your physician, school nurse or the health department your children’s immunizations. Become educated on what immunizations can offer to protect your children. There is not a day that goes by that my patient would not have taken the Polio immunization if he could have. Thankfully for us, we don’t have to face Polio without a vaccine.
Jeremy B. Haymore, MD
Dr. Haymore is a Board Certified Family Physician that works in Emergency Medicine and Family Medicine/Urgent Care.
He is the Medical Director of Physicians Immediate Care Center In Twin Falls, Idaho.
They will be moving to their new location on Cheney Ave (across from Wal-Mart) in Fall 2018.