By Jane Feehan
With world news abuzz about polio cases appearing recently in Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, it might be interesting to revisit the polio epidemic in the 1940s and 1950s in Fort Lauderdale. Below are bits and pieces that appeared in newspapers of those decades.
In 1946, North Carolina banned visitors from Fort Lauderdale for a few weeks out of fear hundreds of children visiting summer camps from the city would bring the polio virus with them. It had been a normal year for polio cases in North Carolina with about 19 cases reported. The ban had an economic impact on rail travel.
· In 1946, sanitation workers sprayed DDT in alleys and garbage cans behind restaurants in Fort Lauderdale. Garbage trucks were followed by trucks with the deadly spray. Workers complained of sores and other skin problems after they were exposed daily to DDT. The Fort Lauderdale Caterers Association announced plans to underwrite spraying of the entire city.
· Polio cases with fatalities declined in 1949 in Fort Lauderdale, and rose in 1952 with a total of 77 cases.
· But the city, as Florida, was hit hard in 1953 and 1954. About 57,000 and 36,000 cases were reported respectively nation-wide, making those years among the worst of polio epidemics in the U.S. since it first appeared in 1894 in this country.
· An outbreak occurred in northwest Fort Lauderdale in 1954 with 65 cases. About 2,000 mothers and children lined up at the public health building to receive gamma globulin immunizations. More than 200 were turned away when they ran out of supplies. Fort Lauderdale reported a total of 95 cases that year. The Salk vaccine was made available later in 1954 and was successful in qwelling the epidemic in Florida and across of the nation.
· A D-Day vet, Robert Q. “Whitey" Garrigus, Jr., who survived the Normandy invasion in 1944 as part of the 507th parachute regiment and subsequently spent one year in a German prison camp, fell victim to bulbar polio in Fort Lauderdale. The former Miami High football star died July 5, 1954 at Variety Children’s hospital after being stricken by the disease at his home at 1500 NW 11 Place.
· After Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was developed and used successfully at schools during the 1954 epidemic, cases dropped dramatically in Fort Lauderdale and across the nation.
· The last U.S. case occurring naturally, i.e., not via the vaccine, was in 1979. A case was reported in Fort Lauderdale in 1996 that may have resulted from the vaccine.
· Rotary Club International has embraced the mission of wiping out polio around the globe. According to its website, the last case of wild poliovirus in the Americas occurred in 1991, and by 1994, the Western Hemisphere became polio-free. Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.
Miami News, June 16, 1946
Miami News, Jan. 11, 1949
Miami News, Oct. 13, 1952
St. Petersburg Times, July 2, 1954
Miami News, July 6, 1954
Miami News, July 18, 1954
Palm Beach Post, May 14, 1955
Ocala Star Banner May 15, 1955
Palm Beach Post, May 9, 1970
Fort Lauderdale Daily News, July 3, 1996
Tags: polio, Fort Lauderdale historian, Miami historian