Many people are surprised to learn that U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt conducted his presidency from a wheelchair. Roosevelt contracted polio in 1921 at the age of 39, and as a result, his legs were permanently paralyzed. The year before, Roosevelt had been the vice presidential candidate for James M. Cox, and though the Democratic ticket lost that year, many had high hopes for Roosevelt's political future. It seemed that polio might end those dreams, but Roosevelt maintained that he was getting better and pursued many experimental therapies. To maintain his public image, Roosevelt had a car with special hand controls so that he could drive, and he leaned on an aide to stand for speeches. He never used his wheelchair in public.
Roosevelt was not alone in that many people had been victimized by polio. Most cases of the disease are asymptomatic, meaning that the disease doesn't produce any symptoms. The remaining polio cases are divided into three categories. "Abortive" polio is characterized by a feeling of general malaise, fever, upper respiratory infection and a sore throat. A more severe form of the disease is "non-paralytic polio," which has symptoms like a mild form of meningitis that include neck stiffness and a heightened sensitivity to light. "Paralytic" polio, finally, is the most serious form of the disease. It causes paralysis of the limbs and reflexes as well as the muscles that control breathing. Paralytic polio is extremely rare, accounting for only about 1 percent of all polio cases.
The virus that causes the polio disease is spread orally. Dr. Jonas Salk developed the first polio vaccine (inactivated polio vaccine, or IPV) in 1955. In 1961, Dr. Albert Sabin came up with an oral form of the vaccine. In the U.S., children are given Salk's IPV vaccine. In contrast, children in less developed parts of the world are given Sabin's oral polio vaccine, because it costs less and doesn't require that health care professionals administer it. On the down side, the oral polio vaccine has been known to cause polio, albeit in very rare instances.
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