LONGVIEW, Texas (KLTV) - It’s a debilitating disease that has been largely eradicated, but a Longview group gathers each year in an effort to make polio nonexistent across the globe.
Polio is a disabling and life-threatening disease caused by the poliovirus, which is spread from person to person. The virus can infect a person’s brain and spinal cord, causing paralysis.
On Friday, the Longview Rotary Club was at the Longview Public Library for World Polio Day. On display was an iron lung, a device invented in the 1920s. It was often used on polio patients who couldn’t breathe due to paralysis to certain chest muscles.
“We bring it out so people can see what an iron lung looks like. So many people did not realize that there were many people that had to be in these. We have nine people that are still living in an iron lung today," said Shirley Griffin, past governor of the Longview Rotary Club.
The group gathers each year to raise money to eradicate polio around the world. In the U.S., the polio pandemic reached its peak in 1952, with more than 57,000 cases — 21,000 of them paralytic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Worldwide, polio killed 375,000 people annually during it’s peak, according to Griffin. The numbers declined quickly with the development of effective vaccines.
“Now we are down to 168 that we have a year,” she said.
Across the globe, polio cases have decreased by more than 99 percent since 1988, according to the World Health Organization, which says there were 33 reported cases in 2018.
The issue is personal for Griffin who was diagnosed with polio in the summer of 1951.
“It is a dreaded disease. It’s lots of hours of pain — in the legs especially. Very high fever and very weak. It was a traumatic experience is what it was and one that I still have to come to grips with at times," she said. “It was a long time before I would talk about it because you feel like you’re something different. It was just a few years ago that I told my story.”
Griffin has travel to around the world to help inoculate children. In 2012, she went to India where she helped distribute polio drops to children.
"An experience that has changed my life forever because I knew that the drops that I gave those children that they would never have to be crippled again,” she said.
The Americas, Europe, South Asia and the Western Pacific are the four regions of the world that are certified polio free, according to the CDC. The agency says Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan are the three countries that have never “interrupted the transmission of wild polio.”