a special program of the National Emergency Medicine Association (NEMA) 


Week: 547.1 Guest: Dr. Steve Cochi, Director of Polio Eradication, Center for Disease Control Topic: Knocking Out Polio Producer/Host: Steve Girard

NEMA: It once plagued several generations of Americans. Now, most people under 30 can't even describe what it was. Polio. The effort that began here in the 1950's isn't quite health officials around the world gear up to enter the new century and leave polio behind, an entry for the medical history books. We have Dr. Steve Cochi, Director of Polio eradication activities for the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta....

COCHI: The fact that many people today don't have a realization of what polio is, is, in fact, a measure of the success of polio immunization in the United States and in most of the world. Polio is a disease that is caused by a virus infection, and polio caused very large the United States before the first polio vaccine became available in 1955. We have done amazingly well in the years since then...and in fact, there hasn't been any polio circulating in the United States since the last case in 1979, and that's why people have less and less of a memory...our grandparents had very strong memories.

NEMA: I understand it doesn't carry any symptoms, what does it do to the body...?

COCHI: One out of every 200 people, and it's usually young children...the virus gets into the central nervous system and the spinal column, and it kills the nerve cells that are important to our ability to move our muscles. It's a life-long damage, and anywhere from 10 to 15 % of cases can lead to death from respiratory failure.

NEMA: Tell me about the effort to get rid of polio for good....

COCHI: The World Health Organization launched an initiative to eradicate polio from the world by the year 2000. If successful, this would represent only the second infectious disease ever to be eradicated from the globe...the first being smallpox, which occurred in 1977.

NEMA: Are we succeeding?

COCHI: The effort has been pretty successful...even in the developing countries of the world, and by about 1990 globally, about 80% of the world's children had received at least three doses of the oral polio vaccine by their first birthday, which is a tremendous achievement. In 1995, approximately 300 million children less than five years of age, received extra doses of polio vaccine in these special nationwide campaigns. So, polio is at an all-time low worldwide.

NEMA: If we're successful in eradicating polio, we can envision a day, perhaps as early as 2005 or so, where we won't have to vaccinate children in the United States against polio any longer, and all of the costs of vaccinating against polio can be used to address other important public health priorities. It started with Jonas Salk...and hopefully will end with the new millennium. Polio conquered. Thanks to Dr. Steve Cochi of the Centers for Disease Control. I'm Steve Girard.