Paralysed with fear: The story of polio

Book cover for 'Paralysed with fear: the story of polio' by Gareth Williams published by Palgrave Macmillan. Credit: Palgrave Macmillan

Thanks to vaccination, polio has been pushed to the brink of extinction – but can we finish the job? This is one of the big questions which a Bristol academic addresses in his new book, published next week.

Gareth Williams, Professor of Medicine at the University of Bristol, has produced the first comprehensive history of polio for over 40 years. Paralysed with fear: the story of polio explores the experiences of victims alongside the medical and scientific landmarks in the history of the disease.

According to a review by The Lancet: "Williams has written a story about good and evil, successfully making poliovirus a villain in a gripping, multiact play. His book should be read by anyone interested in science, medicine, history, and public health. And by anyone interested in an incredible story told by a great storyteller."

Mankind's struggle against polio has been one of the of – and a battleground between good and bad science. Some research won while other work was flawed or fraudulent, holding up progress and endangering patients' lives.

Professor Williams uncovers how peculiar scientific ideas survived and thrived – partly due to the unrelenting pressure for medical scientists to produce results – and how the fear of polio was deliberately exploited in the USA to raise funds for polio research. He also looks at the legacy of the disease, from the establishment of rights for people with disabilities to the 'post-polio syndrome' which affects over 120,000 polio survivors in the UK.

The book also asks what the global eradication of polio will mean practically, and how much this would add to the current stalemate of near-eradication, when some argue that funds should be diverted into dealing with the great killers of children in the developing world, such as malaria and rotavirus-induced .

Professor Williams said: "There are now only three countries left in the world where polio is endemic: northern Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Getting rid of polio for all time is an achievable target, but the story of polio is full of twists and turns and a happy ending is not guaranteed – especially as the major obstacles now are due to human nature rather than anything to do with the virus or the limitations of the vaccines."

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Gates urges polio eradication by 2018

Jan 30, 2013

Microsoft founder Bill Gates said the battle to eradicate polio was one of the toughest the world has faced, but said it could be conquered by 2018.

Egypt to vaccinate after polio found in sewer (Update)

Jan 24, 2013

Egypt will carry out a vaccination campaign for children in parts of Cairo after polio was recently found in the capital's sewage, believed to have been brought to the country from Pakistan, a Health Ministry official said ...

Recommended for you

Ebola mistakes should serve a lesson says WHO

10 hours ago

The World Health Organization's chief admitted on Sunday that the UN agency had been caught napping on Ebola, saying it should serve as a lesson to avoid similar mistakes in future.

British Ebola nurse discharged from hospital

17 hours ago

A British nurse who contracted Ebola while working as a volunteer in Sierra Leone said she was "happy to be alive" as she was discharged from hospital on Saturday having made a full recovery.

Tide turning in Ebola fight after hard lessons

Jan 24, 2015

A top U.N. official in the fight against Ebola greeted just three patients at one treatment center he visited this week in Sierra Leone. Families in Liberia are no longer required to cremate the remains of ...

Just five Ebola cases left in Liberia: UN

Jan 24, 2015

The United Nations said on Saturday Liberia was dealing with just five remaining cases of Ebola, in the clearest sign yet that the country is nearing the end of the outbreak.

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.