Tag Archives: Poliomyelitis

A great book about living with polio

Anne Finger

Anne Finger

I had the pleasure of meeting the author Anne Finger in 2010, when we were both nominees for the Northern California Book Awards. (Anne was a Fiction nominee for her short story collection, “Call Me Ahab.” Me? I lost to Dave Eggers–does he have to win every award?–in the Creative Nonfiction category.)

Anne’s legs were paralyzed by polio when she was a toddler. Her book, “Elegy for a Disease: A Personal and Cultural History of Polio” (2006) brings all the theoretical discussions of polio and vaccines down to a very personal level. “Elegy” is a remarkable read for anyone who wants to know what it’s really like to live with the damage, both physical and emotional, that polio once wreaked on thousands of American children and adults every year.

Here’s an excerpt from Publishers Weekly’s review of “Elegy for a Disease”:

In skillful prose, Finger merges memoir with historical narrative about how polio was viewed and dealt with in the years before the Salk vaccine was invented 50 years ago. Evocative and often poetic, the memoir is also a litany of the miserable, useless, even harmful treatments imposed by helpless doctors on suffering children. She offers a nuanced history, for instance, of the painful and unorthodox heat treatments espoused by Elizabeth Kenny. Finger… describes the traumatic operations, beginning when she was six, that led in turn to complications when she was in her 40s. Taught to believe that she could overcome her disability, Finger overexercised and, while living in England, attended antiwar demonstrations that were physically dangerous…

“Elegy for a Disease” is a vividly-written reminder of why we should still worry about polio in Pakistan.

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Filed under Birth Day, Infectious diseases, Vaccines, Writing

Polio: A milestone in India

Polio-free for a year!

This week India celebrated a milestone many thought would never come. For the first time in its history an entire year passed without a single case of paralytic polio. The last Indian child to be paralyzed by the virus was an 18 month-old girl diagnosed on January 13, 2011. The end of polio in India had been predicted: there were 790 cases in 2009 and only 42 in 2010. Fingers will remain crossed for the near future–the World Health Organization won’t certify a country as polio-free for three years, since asymptomatic polio can circulate for some time.

The Indian government has spent $2 billion dollars fighting polio–hundreds of millions of polio vaccine doses have been administered in recent years–and it knows it will spend many more millions to keep the infection away. Polio is transmitted via sewage-contaminated drinking water, and that’s unfortunately fairly common in that part of the world. More worrisome is the proximity of Pakistan, India’s next-door neighbor, which had nearly 200 cases of polio last year. Viruses don’t respect international borders–the risk of polio resurfacing in India is substantial.

So hats off to India! It’s quite an accomplishment.


Filed under Infectious diseases, Vaccines