Could Polio Make A Comeback In The U.S.?

(CBS) — Measles is back, and that has some people wondering if a more fearsome disease could make a comeback.

Polio has been considered eradicated in the U.S. since 1979, but could it return?

CBS 2’s Roseanne Tellez examines the issue and looks at what it was like living with polio.

Ina Pinkney was diagnosed at 18 months.

“It was terrifying. Nobody went to the movies. Nobody went to swimming pools. They just didn’t know how it was transmitted,” she says.

A vaccine did not become available until 1955. In 1952 alone, polio struck more than 50,000. Of those, 21,000 suffered mild to severe paralysis.

“We have a perfect storm for polio to make a re-appearance in the American scene,” Dr. Robert Daum of the University of Chicago says.

That’s because polio still exists. More than 300 cases were reported overseas last year.

“Someone could come from Pakistan, Nigeria, Afghanistan … and be a carrier of the virus and then pass it on to people who are not vaccinated,” John Hewko of Rotary International says.

In the U.S. in 2013, an estimated 93 percent of kids under 3 were vaccinated.

“We are nowhere near 100 percent coverage with the vaccine,” Daum says. “Some parents are concerned about vaccines and some kids don’t get medical care at all.”

What’s more, there’s an issue with the current vaccine that’s been used here since 2000.

The vaccine makes people personally immune to polio, but if they come in contact with an infected person, they could still catch the virus and carry it in their intestinal tract. They would not be sick, but they could still pass it on to other people.

“The virus will, I like to say ‘whistle’ through the population, not causing disease until it finds someone who has not been immunized,” Daum says.

Dr. Daum says it’s not a likely scenario, but it could happen, especially if more people become infected in countries with lower vaccination rates.

“Polio could happen this afternoon or it could happen 10 years from now,” he says.

Ina Pinckney says it would be tragic if the disease that’s still causing her pain made a comeback.

Exactly 61 years ago, the first injections of the polio vaccine were given to a group of school children in Pittsburgh. One year later, in 1955, it became widely available. By 1962, the number of Polio cases had dropped to less than 1,000.

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