The Infectious Myth

A Book Project by David Crowe

Polio Timeline

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A history of polio relevant to a rethinking of the infectious causation of polio.

Year(s)Event
1765Boerhaave correlates paralysis with exposure to mercury fumes
1789British physician Michael Underwood provides first clinical description
1824Cooke associates paralysis with inhaling or swallowing mercury, arsenic or lead
1830–1840Emerson reports that the vital statistics for Philadelphia record more than 8,000 deaths from diseases of the nervous system in a decade, out of a population of 226,693.
1832Turner blames the "dry belly-ache" of the Caribbean, which sometimes includes paralysis and is sometimes fatal, on lead poisoning
1840Jacob Heine describes polio's clinical features and the involvement of the spinal cord
1850Colton documents a patient who becomes paralyzed a week after swallowing arsenic
1867First use of arsenical insecticide
1879Vulpian produces paralaysis in a dog with lead
1880Barrel spray pump first appeared on American market. Quantity of poison left on fruit due to pesticide applications judged insignificant.
1883Mills reports 7 cases of paralysis resulting from consumption of a poisoned pumpkin pie. One young man became paralyzed fully 9 days after eating the pie.
1885First outbreaks of paralytic shellfish disease reported in districts around the North Sea of Europe
1887Starr points out that alcoholic spirits, but not wine and beer, sometimes produce paralysis. Distillation is a common cause of lead poisoning
1887First polio epidemic in Sweden (43 cases)
1892Lead arsenate first proposal as insecticidal spray
1894132 cases in first US outbreak in Vermont
1895Putnam states that it is generally accepted that polio has a toxic cause, although different toxins may produce slightly different symptoms. He rejects an infectious cause
1896Caverly blames an epidemic in Vermont on "a specific poison". There was no evidence pointing towards contagion
1900Stieglitz produces paralysis in 36 animals with lead poisoning
1900Onuf reports a painter with paralysis in both legs. Until the 1920s most paints were lead based
1900Cause of an epidemic of arsenic poisoning among British beer drinkers went undiscovered for 6 months. Symptoms included motor paralysis.
1900Epidemic of arsenic poisoning around Manchester, England. It affected beer drinkers for six months until the cause was found.
1903Phillippe and Gauthard report a case of anterior poliomyelitis from lead poisoning
1905First severe polio epidemic in Sweden (886 cases)
1907Emerson reports that, in an epidemic of polio in Massachusetts, that no breastfed baby was paralyzed
1907First use of arsenates in dust form
1908Landsteiner & Popper inject materials from the spinal column of a boy who died of polio into a monkey causing a similar disease. This is accepted as definitive proof of infectious causation
1908Collins and Martland report poliomyelitis in a man using potassium cyanide as a silver polish
1909Flexner & Lewis were able to create paralytic symptoms by passaging polio spinal cord material from a human through a series of monkeys
1911–1913Three years of polio in Sweden (6,764 cases)
1915Paradichlorobenzene recommended in US for clothes moths and carpet beetles
1916Large epidemic of polio in the New York City area (over 9,000 cases resulting in 2243 deaths). Nationwide there were about 27,000 cases and 6,000 deaths
1916 June–1916 OctoberPolio epidemic in New York and surrounding states with 8,900 cases and 2,400 deaths
1921Franklin Delano Roosevelt comes down with polio when on vacation on the Bay of Fundy
1924First commercial use of airplanes for applying insecticides
1925Aycock and Eaton state that "Our present knowledge permits only speculation concerning the mode of infection"
1927First outbreak of paralytic shellfish disease in California.. Also the largest ever number of poliomyelitis cases in this state (1,298)
1929Zinc-based lithopone overtakes white lead as the primary paint pigment
1936Paralysis occurs two weeks after an operation on three members of one family, perhaps caused by the anaesthetic
1936Charles Armstrong of the USPHS sprays picric acid and alum solution into the noses of 4,600 Alabamans, to no avail
1936Maurice Brodie's vaccine from ground up spinal cords of monkeys injected with polio virus is revealed to have caused at least one death and three cases of paralysis in humans and other scientists did not find that it protected monkeys from polio virus injections
1936Polio-like intranuclear inclusion bodies found in children dying of lead poisoning.
1938Lumsden states "On epidemiological grounds alone, it appears conceivable that poliomyelitis is not caused by a living microorganism or a virus but by a toxin."
1939The polio-vaccinologist Sabin states "We possess no knowledge of the actual portal of entry into the human body"
1939Insecticidal properties of DDT discovered by JR Geigy SA in Switzerland
1940McKhann states "The portal of entry of the virus has not been definitely established"
1942DDT Introduced to the UK and the US
1943"DDT…became a [British] war priority of the highest order, ranking with penicillin and radar, and nothing was allowed to stand in its way."
1944Lillie et al show that DDT can produce degeneration of cells in the spinal cord
1944Mass production of DDT begins in the UK and US
1945Stomach contents of fish from polluted rivers produced weakness in monkeys after a few days. The material had been sterilized to eliminate infectious agents. Emulsion of spinal cord of this monkey produced paralysis of the left leg when injected into another monkey.
1946First year DDT used for pest control in the United States
1949A Public Health Service study of the Detroit-Windsor area is launched under the 1909 boundary treaty in response to Canadian complaints about pollution from Detroit

1950US Public Health Industrial Hygiene Medical Director, J.G. Townsend, notes the similarity between parathion poisoning and polio and believes that some polio might be caused by eating fruits or vegetables with parathion residues
1952–1962Years of London Smog before the Clean Air Act
1953EQ-53 formulation of DDT released for use mothproof clothes by washing them
1954Nearly two million US children participate in vaccine field trials.
1954 April 26First of 440,000 trial inoculations using the Salk vaccine. 210,000 got a placebo.
1955 April 12Salk vaccine pronounced safe and effective by Thomas Francis, who had previously employed Salk at his lab
1955 April 23Jonas Salk awarded US Medal of Merit from President Eisenhower
1955 April 25First paralysis from Salk vaccine reported
1955 April 27First of 204 vaccine-associated cases of polio reported. About 75% were paralytic. 11 died.
1955 April 28Cutter vaccine recalled after 380,000 children vaccinated with it, but many paralyzed or killed
1957Of 67 high priority people (under 20 and pregnant women) only 25 million had the full three shots of vaccine, 22 million had 2, 11 million had one and 9 million remain unvaccinated
1962Dr. Bernard Greenberg testifies that changes in the definition of polio in 1955 significantly reduced the number of cases
1962Sabin vaccine made with live attenuated virus was preferred in most locations to the Salk vaccine
1962US Switches to Sabin live polio vaccine
1962 JulyFirst reports of paralysis shortly after receiving the Sabin (attenuated live polio virus) vaccine
1979–1998Lead poisoning due to moonshine is declining but remained an important cause of fatal lead poisoning through a 1979-1998 survey
1990Outbreak of Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP) in Paraguay linked to Organophosphate pesticides
199525% of Moonshine samples seized by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms would cause dangerous blood lead levels in heavy drinkers (more than one liter per day)

Copyright April, 2010 by David Crowe.