Paralysed with fear: The story of polio

June 19, 2013, University of Bristol
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."

Explore further: Polio cases found in Kenya and Somalia, WHO says

Related Stories

Polio cases found in Kenya and Somalia, WHO says

May 22, 2013
The World Health Organization says the Horn of Africa is experiencing an outbreak of polio with cases confirmed in Kenya and Somalia.

Second child contracts polio in Pakistan's Waziristan

May 23, 2013
A second child has contracted polio in a restive Pakistani tribal region near the Afghan border after the Taliban banned vaccinations there nearly a year ago, a UN official said Thursday.

Bloomberg donating $100M to help fight polio

February 28, 2013
(AP)—New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is pledging $100 million to help the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others fight polio around the world.

Gates urges polio eradication by 2018

January 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)

January 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 ...

Predictive model developed for polio

October 18, 2011
Using outbreak data from 2003-2010, Kathleen O'Reilly of Imperial College London, UK and colleagues develop a statistical model of the spread of wild polioviruses in Africa that can predict polio outbreaks six months in advance. ...

Recommended for you

Creation of synthetic horsepox virus could lead to more effective smallpox vaccine

January 19, 2018
UAlberta researchers created a new synthetic virus that could lead to the development of a more effective vaccine against smallpox. The discovery demonstrates how techniques based on the use of synthetic DNA can be used to ...

Study ends debate over role of steroids in treating septic shock

January 19, 2018
The results from the largest ever study of septic shock could improve treatment for critically ill patients and save health systems worldwide hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

New approach could help curtail hospitalizations due to influenza infection

January 18, 2018
More than 700,000 Americans were hospitalized due to illnesses associated with the seasonal flu during the 2014-15 flu season, according to federal estimates. A radical new approach to vaccine development at UCLA may help ...

Zika virus damages placenta, which may explain malformed babies

January 18, 2018
Though the Zika virus is widely known for a recent outbreak that caused children to be born with microencephaly, or having a small head, and other malformations, scientists have struggled to explain how the virus affects ...

Certain flu virus mutations may compensate for fitness costs of other mutations

January 18, 2018
Seasonal flu viruses continually undergo mutations that help them evade the human immune system, but some of these mutations can reduce a virus's potency. According to new research published in PLOS Pathogens, certain mutations ...

Study reveals how MRSA infection compromises lymphatic function

January 17, 2018
Infections of the skin or other soft tissues with the hard-to-treat MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) bacteria appear to permanently compromise the lymphatic system, which is crucial to immune system function. ...

0 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.