Polio still exists in the world and on Thursday Ceres Rotary Club members Dave and Liz Hosmer brought a tangible reminder of that reality to students at Whitmore Charter School. An iron lung, used in the most severe cases of polio by allowing someone to breathe, caught the curiosity of students at lunchtime.
“Our goal is to help join the effort,” said Interact Club adviser Kathie Knudsen. “We’re getting this close to ending polio worldwide. There’s only three other countries where it exists.”
Those countries are Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The eradication effort is closest in Nigeria where 82 cases as of last week.
Polio is mostly contracted through contact with contaminated water. The late President Franklin Roosevelt developed polio in 1921 after falling in the water while yachting. He suffered from pain and paralysis of his legs for the rest of his life.
A country cannot be declared rid of polio until three years have passed without a new outbreak.
Liz Hosmer said there three strains of polio with Type II and III wiped away.
The disease causes muscles to atrophy but does not paralyze pain sensors. In the worst cases, victims would have to live in an iron lung for years or for natural life.
“There’s a man in Texas where the paralysis was so terrible he’s lived his whole life in one of these,” said Liz Hosmer. “He’s 67 and he got it when he was six. And he’s an attorney. He’s very bright. He says he’s never lost a client because they thought if he could practice law from an iron lung he can do anything.”
The club then asked the third- through eighth-graders to bring back a dollar to bring back for donation on Thursday, World Polio Day.
“They’re really into it,” she said. “It’s really interesting to see how much they retain.”
Polio can be eliminated by immunizations but that is difficult in some Third World nations. Dave Hosmer spoke about the dangers of reaching some of the unimmunized in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“It’s dangerous. People have been killed trying to run this program. There’s some issues with fear and misinformation about how it’ll sterilize you, you know it’s a ‘western plot’ to dominate the Muslims.”
The day before the Hosmers visited the campus students spoke to students about polio and Rotary’s efforts to wipe it off the planet. Also speaking to students was polio survivor Jim Begs, a Modesto Junior College professor.
When Rotarians began their quest to battle polio in 1985, the world was seeing 350,000 cases develop each year in 125 countries.
“They estimate we’ve saved 10 to 12 million kids from paralysis,” said Dave Hosmer. “Like smallpox it only lives in humans so once it’s out of the human population it’ll be gone.”