In the first decades of the twentieth century, tens of thousands of children and adults were struck by poliomyelitis, also known as infantile paralysis, every year. Some died, others such as future President Franklin Roosevelt were left permanently without the use of limbs. No one knew the cause. In 1916, a wild rumor that cats were the carriers led to the slaughter of 22,000 felines in the city of New York. Jonas Salk, who worked with a team that developed the first 'flu vaccine for the military during World War II, turned to the problem of polio in the 1950s.
Though colleagues competed with him and criticized his methods, columnists warned of little white coffins being prepared for all the children his test vaccine would kill, and cranks plagued him by mail, Salk and his staff successfully developed a vaccine that drastically reduced the threat of polio. At the dawn of the 21st century, it has nearly been eradicated worldwide.
This report prepared by David Loftus