Friday, December 09, 2005

1870 Unintended consequences

Polio has been a topic on this blog and my memory blog with my sister's illness and my cousin's death seared into my childhood memories. So this morning I read through reviews of two new titles on polio, Polio: an American story, and Living with polio: the epidemic and its survivors, both published in 2005. A few entries back I was commenting that people my age don't recall all the food allergies we see today, some of them fatal. So I was surprised to read that probably my grandparents weren't familiar with polio in the late 19th century either. As part of the introduction to the reviews the author writes:

Epidemic poliomyelitis first appeared in the United States a century ago, at a time when America was rapidly evolving from its post-colonial agrarian roots toward industrialization, urbanization, and the ascension of the middle class. Polio, a new "emerging infection," was an unanticipated consequence of the invention of the flush toilet and the adoption of the use of toilet paper. These hygienic advances brought about the control of most diseases transmitted by enteric bacteria, but they paradoxically increased the risk of paralytic disease by delaying poliovirus infection beyond the age at which infants are protected by maternal antibodies acquired by way of the placenta. (John E. Modlin, NEJM, 353;21, 2308-2310)

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