Thursday, December 20, 2007

Polio epidemic ends in Malheur County after worst year across the U.S.

Editor’s note: 1952 proved to be the worst year for polio in the history of Malheur County and across the nation. Nationally there were 57,628 reported cases that year, three years before the inject able Salk vaccine was declared safe for widespread use. The oral Sabine vaccine began to be administered in 1961, soon eradicating polio in this country.)

The Dec. 15, 1952 issue of The Argus-Observer reported that the polio epidemic in the Malheur County area had ended on Nov. 5 with 78 cases treated in the polio ward of a Nyssa hospital, including 47 people from Malheur County.

There were five deaths from polio at the hospital during the year. Those five were Tony Liebag and his mother Dorothy of Hines, Oregon, Kathleen Lowe of Payette, Julia Ann Kirby of Baker and Gary Lee Denton of Baker County.

Another five Malheur County cases were reported receiving treatment at other hospitals or at home, bringing the total for the county for the year to 52.

L.A. Maulding, the Malheur County health officer, said he was surprised at how suddenly the epidemic stopped. The epidemic lasted four months, with polio patients were checking into the Nyssa hospital at a rate of almost one a day until Nov. 5, when they abruptly stopped. In 1947, the worst previous polio year in the county, the epidemic lasted seven months but with just 24 cases reported countywide.

With the epidemic apparently over, three patients who were treated at the hospital required rehabilitation including one 17-year-old boy who was paralyzed from the waist down, Maulding said.

Maulding told the newspaper that he hoped to raise awareness and funding for a rehabilitation wing at the Nyssa hospital, where patients needing such treatment from throughout Eastern Oregon could be served.

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