Poliomyelitis (polio) is an illness caused by the poliovirus. It spreads when an infected person comes in contact with someone else or when a person comes into contact with the feces of an infected person. Upon becoming infected with the virus, symptoms of the illness develop in five to thirty-five days. Generally, polio is not a deadly disease. People who contract the illness usually suffer flu-like symptoms. In addition, they also commonly endure stiff and painful necks and backs. In ninety percent of cases, people are fully cured of the disease and suffer no debilitating effects. In a small percentage of cases, victims can lose the ability to use one or more of their limbs. When this occurs, these people might spend the remainder of their lives confined to bed or to a wheelchair. In extreme cases, death from respiratory failure can result.
From circa 1840 to 1979, polio epidemics commonly struck United States citizens, including Ohioans. Most common during the summer and fall seasons, parents routinely prevented their children from playing with friends or swimming in any body of water to protect them from the illness. The disease most commonly infected children, although people of all ages could contract the virus. Perhaps the most famous victim of polio was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, president of the United States. Several Ohio hospitals, including Akron's Children's Hospital and Elyria's Gates Hospital for Crippled Children, became leaders in treatment of the disease. The last reported case of poliomyelitis contracted from the poliovirus in the United States occurred in 1979. Thanks to Jonas Salk's research during the 1950s and Ohioan Albert B. Sabin's development of an oral vaccine in 1957, the disease is virtually non-existent in developed countries. Outbreaks continue to occur in poorer countries, where people are less likely to have access to the vaccine.