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Perspective: An educator’s personal story: The year is 1949, not 2020, and the disease is polio, not covid-19 | The Washington Post.

[March 21, 2020 at 11:00 a.m. GMT]

Dr. Jonas Salk, the scientist who discovered the polio vaccine, administers an injection to an unidentified boy at a Pittsburgh elementary school in 1954.Dr. Jonas Salk, the scientist who discovered the polio vaccine, administers an injection to an unidentified boy at a Pittsburgh elementary school in 1954. (AP)

Valerie Strauss writes:

Larry Cuban is emeritus professor of education at Stanford University and a leading scholar on the history of school reform. Before his long Stanford tenure, he was a high school social studies teacher for 14 years and a district superintendent in Arlington, Va., for seven years.

He is the author of numerous books about education, as well as scholarship articles and op-ed pieces on classroom teaching, the history of school reform, how policy gets translated into practice and education technology. His newest book, “Chasing Success and Confronting Failure in American Schools” from Harvard Education Press, will be available in April.

Cuban has also written an education blog for 11 years, called Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice, which always offers sober and smart analysis

He wrote a recent piece on his blog that was uncharacteristically not about schools but about a personal experience he had with a viral outbreak from the past, during which he contracted polio.

It seems like an appropriate time to run his compelling story now, with most of the country’s schools closed because of the global spread of the novel coronavirus known as covid-19, and with millions of Americans hunkering down at home, fearful of getting sick.

By Larry Cuban.

San Angelo is in West Texas, the county seat between Abilene and the Mexican border. Farms, oil wells and cattle ranches fenced with barbed wire dot the county. Blessed with a warm climate and reputation as a healthy place to live, in one year San Angelo added to its reputation in ways that city leaders dreaded.*

In mid-spring, the newspaper reported that a local child had come down with a viral disease. Previously, when this disease occurred, it had not spread. This one, however, did.

Parents began arriving at Shannon Memorial Hospital with “feverish, aching youngsters in their arms,” the local newspaper reported. Within days these children died: 10-month-old Esperanza Ramirez, 7-year-old Billie Doyle Kleghorn, 4-year-old Susan Barr and others.

The city health officer said that an epidemic was occurring. Because the disease had no known cause or prevention or cure, he recommended that San Angelo children avoid crowds, wash their hands regularly and get a lot of rest.

A month later, with known cases spiking to over 60, the city council voted to close all indoor meeting places, including theaters and churches. Tourists stopped coming to the city. The economy shrank. One local doctor said, “We got to the point … when people would not even shake hands.”

The year is 1949, not 2020. The disease is polio, not covid-19.

I got polio in 1944, five years before the epidemic hit San Angelo. But I was lucky. I came out of the disease with only a limp from a destroyed calf muscle.

Amid the fears of the coronavirus today, I can now appreciate in a way that I could not as a 10-year-old the dread of the unknown consequences for their son that my parents had after I came down with the “plague,” as it was called at the time.

What was true about polio is also true of the novel coronavirus: Experts are not exactly sure how covid-19 began, and testing for the disease continues to be slow in the United States. There are no known medications to ease or a vaccine to prevent it. Even the death rate from the disease is uncertain because of flaws in testing and tardiness in evaluating large numbers of people in China and other countries as the epidemic became a pandemic. Political and medical officials advise Americans to wash their hands often and stay away from crowds. Anxieties and fears are as contagious as the disease’s spread from its origins in China to the rest of the world.

Now as an old man, the fear I have of the coronavirus striking my family friends, and the nation must be close to what my parents must have felt when I got polio three-quarters of a century ago.

Polio virus.

Known for centuries but isolated in the early 1900s, the virus that causes polio had triggered epidemics across the world. Because it was not known why children and adults got sick, became paralyzed and died, prevention was useless. Fear of contagion was rampant wherever cases broke out. Treatment for the disease, often called “infantile paralysis,” was a combination of muscle wrappings and massage of limbs to ease damage to the body that inevitably occurred.

In the United States, epidemics occurred periodically, paralyzing children and adults, rich and poor alike. One epidemic in 1916 claimed 27,000 Americans; in New York alone, there were 8,400 cases and 2,400 deaths. Five years later, Franklin Delano Roosevelt came down with the disease at the age of 39 and wore leg braces for the rest of his life including the years he served as U.S. president (1933-1945). Not until the early 1950s did a vaccine become available for children.

The polio epidemic of 1944 swept across Pittsburgh. I caught it. I remember well the weeks I was in the hospital and the months that I was at home.

I recall the anxiety and fears that my parents and brothers had — I was the youngest in the family — since the paralysis could cause loss of breathing (“iron lungs” were invented to keep children and adults alive) and destroy muscles. Both of my brothers had been drafted — it was the third year of World War II — and were serving in the U.S. Navy and Air Force. My parents were worried about them and then I came down with polio. Friends and neighbors steered clear of our home.

My most vivid memory was my mother massaging my legs with cocoa butter in the hospital. I could not walk after I returned home and daily she would rub my legs with it. I missed a few months of junior high school and when I returned, I had a noticeable limp. The smell of cocoa butter has remained fixed in my head ever since.

So too have I remembered drinking raw eggs every morning before I went to junior high school. Because my leg muscles and body wasted during confinement for polio in the hospital and at home, doctors had told my parents that I needed proteins to rebuild muscle strength.

So my father every morning before going to work would crack open two eggs and put them in a small glass, stir them into one yellow blob and watch as I drank it. I shivered at the taste. This went on for months until I regained weight and could walk and run, albeit slowly.

My guess is that the fears my parents had that I would die went away slowly as I began to walk and returned to school in 1945. With the end of World War II, my brothers came home. I was getting strong enough to bowl, play baseball and basketball.

As I think back to that time 75 years ago, I can imagine their fears for me as I and uncounted millions of families now face covid-19.

Like many Americans of my generation, I now stay at home a lot, talk on the phone, text and stay away from crowds. I do fist bumps with family and friends, wash my hands often, watch as cancellations of schools, conferences, sporting events and entertainment venues pile up.

Am I fearful and anxious? Yes. Do I keep my fingers crossed that the virus runs its course and disappears? You can bet on that.

Just like my mother and father in 1944 and those parents in San Angelo in 1949 who faced the unknown when their children caught the polio virus, mothers and fathers are today concerned about their children and elderly parents contracting the coronavirus. The past has become the present right before our eyes.

Today, I can still smell that cocoa butter. And I do not like eggs very much even when they are scrambled.

*For the description of San Angelo, Texas and the 1949 polio epidemic, I used David Oshinsky, Polio: An American Story (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), pp. 1-4.


Valerie Strauss is an education writer who authors The Answer Sheet blog. She came to The Washington Post as an assistant foreign editor for Asia in 1987 and weekend foreign desk editor after working for Reuters as national security editor and a military/foreign affairs reporter on Capitol Hill. She also previously worked at UPI and the LA Times.

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Larry Brilliant Helped to Eradicate Smallpox—and He Has Advice for COVID-19 | Scientific American.

The doctor's firsthand experience with epidemics gives him a unique view of our current health crisis.

Larry Brilliant Helped to Eradicate Smallpox--and He Has Advice for COVID-19

Larry Brilliant. Credit: Paul Zimmerman Getty Images

[By Jeffery DelViscio, Karen M. Sughrue on March 20, 2020]

When a virus that no one has ever seen before spreads across the globe in mere months, science must race to find answers to some very hard questions: How fast will COVID-19 proliferate? How many will get sick? Can our health systems withstand the onslaught of this new illness? Will there be a vaccine anytime soon? As we wait for those answers, many of us sit and watch and read the news—at a social distance, it is hoped—without knowing exactly what to do or what the near future will hold.

This moment may feel like it is without precedent, but COVID-19 is only the latest pandemic. And while past global disease outbreaks have involved other viruses with different patterns of transmission, how the world community came together to deal with them at the time can offer some relevant lessons today.

YouTube Video: Coronavirus: Lessons From Past Epidemics | Retro Report [10:42]

Larry Brilliant has spent his career fighting epidemics. As a doctor working for the World Health Organization in the 1970s, he helped to stamp out smallpox. It remains the only human disease to ever be successfully eradicated in our history.

COVID-19 is not the same as smallpox. The latter is in a class of diseases known as anthroponoses, which are only transmissible from human to human. It is believed that smallpox first emerged in East Africa between 4,000 and 3,000 years ago.

In contrast, COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease, which means it passed to humans from an animal host. (There is good evidence to suggest it may have originated in bats.) Given that situation, there is little hope of eradicating this novel coronavirus. To do so would mean vaccinating both humans and the animals that carry it. But humans can deploy our public health resources across the world to fight it.

In this video—a collaboration between Retro Report and Scientific American—Brilliant describes the dynamics at play in both the eradication of smallpox and the fight to cure polio while reflecting on what insights those diseases offer us in this time of uncertainty.

Read more about the coronavirus outbreak here.



Karen M. Sughrue

Karen M. Sughrue is a senior producer at Retro Report. Karen has worked as a producer at 60 Minutes, where her stories included the growing knowledge gap with American boys falling behind girls in school, an exposé of the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and the impact of the one-child policy on Chinese society today. Karen also served as Executive Producer of CBS News Face the Nation and Berlin Bureau Chief covering the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union.

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UNICEF-WHO Philippines: Polio Outbreak Situation Report #18 (20 February 2020) | Reliefweb.

[Sources: UNICEF WHO] [Published: 20 Mar 2020]


  • The total number of polio cases in the country remains at 17.

  • Currently, there are 14 cases of cVDPV2, one case with cVDPV1; one case with VDPV1; and one case with immunodeficiency related VDPV type 2 (iVDPV2).

  • Philippines is affected by both cVDPV1 and cVDPV2. cVDPV is considered a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).

  • The second round of bOPV was completed on 1 March in Mindanao targeting 1,487,026 children under 5 and 1,989,517 children under 10. A total of 1,477,617 children under 5 representing (99.4%) and 1,961,968 children under 10 (98.6%) were vaccinated.

  • In the National Capital Region, the second mOPV2 round was completed on 8 March, a total of 1,432,065 children under five were vaccinated (102%).

  • The Philippines on 12 March raised the COVID-19 Alert System to Code Red sublevel 2 as recommended by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATFEID), it has imposed stringent social distancing measures and community quarantine for 30 days which will have a significant impact on polio outbreak response activity. The rapid response vaccination with mOPV2 in selected areas of Region 3 and the third round of bOPV planned for Mindanao, originally scheduled on 23 March have been postponed until further notice

Download report (PDF | 2.06 MB)

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Polio this week as of 18 March 2020 | GPEI via ReliefWeb.

[Source: GPEI] [Published: 18 Mar 2020] [Origin: View original]

  • The COVID -19 pandemic response requires worldwide solidarity and an urgent global effort. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), with thousands of polio workers, and an extensive laboratory and surveillance network, has a moral imperative to ensure that these resources are used to support countries in their preparedness and response. Read more
  • Summary of new viruses this week (AFP cases and environmental samples):
    - Pakistan: five WPV1 cases, three WPV1 positive environmental samples and 13 cVDPV2 cases
    - Angola: one cVDPV2 case
    - Chad: two cVDPV2 cases
    - Côte d’Ivoire: one cVDPV2 case and one cVDPV2 positive environmental sample
    - Malaysia: one cVDPV1 case

Download report (PDF | 573.19 KB)

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Out-of-sequence vaccinations with measles vaccine and diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine. A re-analysis of demographic surveillance data from rural Bangladesh | Clinical Infectious Diseases.

[Pay to View Full Text] [Received: 08 July 2019; Published: 18 March 2020]



Due to delays in vaccinations, diphtheria-tetanus-whole-cell-pertussis (DTP) is often given with or after measles vaccine (MV) – out of sequence. We reanalysed data from Matlab, Bangladesh, to examine how administration of MV and DTP out-of-sequence was associated with child survival.


36,650 children born between 1986 and 1999 were followed with registration of vaccinations and survival. Controlling for background factors using Cox proportional hazards models, survival was analysed between 9 and 24 months of age. We measured the mortality rate ratio (MRR) to compare vaccination groups. Oral polio vaccine (OPV) campaigns, which started in 1995, reduced the mortality rate and reduced the difference between vaccination groups. In the main analysis, we therefore censored for OPV campaigns; there were 151 non-accidents deaths before the OPV campaigns.


Compared with MV administered alone (MV-only), DTP administered with or after MV had MRR 2.20 (1.31-3.70), and DTP-only had MRR 1.78 (1.01-3.11). Compared with MV-only, DTP administered with MV had a female-male MRR 0.56 (0.13-2.38), significantly different to DTP administered after MV which had MRR 14.83 (1.88-117.1), test of interaction p=0.011. Compared with having DTP (no MV) as most recent vaccination, MV-only had a non-accident MRR of 0.56 (0.32-0.99).


The negative effects of non-live DTP with or after live MV are not explained merely by selection bias. These observations support a live-vaccine-last policy where DTP should not be given with or after MV.

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