Jonas Salk :American virologist

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Jonas SalkFrom the beginning of mankind, man has looked for cures of illness. JonasSalk found a cure for one of the worst illnesses in the history of man, polio.

Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was a great discovery of his time, and it is stillbeing used today to eradicate polio worldwide. Dr. Salk is also known for othermedical discoveries. He was a quiet man who lived a rough childhood. He wasnot looking for fame, instead, it found him. During the time before the vaccine,many people, mostly parents with young children, were very scared. Dr. Salk’svaccine was a great relief to everyone. Yet, today polio is still affectingpeople, even after receiving the vaccine. Just as polio is still around today,so is the flu virus. Dr. Salk did invent a flu vaccine to help in keeping theflu virus at a low. At this time, Jonas Salk is working on a vaccine for themost feared disease of today, AIDS.

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Jonas Edward Salk was born to Polish-Jewish immigrants, Daniel B. andDora Salk, on October 28, 1914. Dr. Salk was born in upper Manhattan, but thenmoved to the Bronx where he went to school. “His first spoken words were, ‘Dirt,dirt,’ instead of the conventional, uninspired ‘No, no’ or ‘Momma.’ He was aresponsive child.” Dr. Salk was “raised on the verge of poverty.” Althoughhis family was poor, he did do exceptionally well in all the levels of education.

He graduated from Townsend Harris High School in 1929 and then went on to theCollege of the City of New York where he received his B.S. in 1934. He finallyearned his M.D. degree in June of 1939 from the New York University College ofMedicine. Jonas Salk was “a somewhat withdrawn and indistinct figure” but wasalways reading whatever he could lay his hands on. Dr. Salk went on to internfor two years at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. He then moved on to theUniversity of Michigan in Ann Arbor as a research professor in the Department ofEpidemology. It was here that he found a vaccine for influenza, commonly calledthe flu, while he worked with Dr. Thomas Francis Jr. In 1947, when theUniversity of Pittsburgh expanded, he went to work there with a part in hiscontract that said he could go back to Ann Arbor if things didn’t work out, noquestions asked. At this school he became what he is known as today, abacteriologist. It was here that he developed the polio vaccination. Dr. Salkthen left his field of endeavor because of all the fame and ridicule from hiscolleagues. In 1963, Jonas Salk set up the Salk Institute for BiologicalStudies in La Jolla, California. This facility was made possible through fundsfrom the March of Dimes. At this time, he is eighty years old and working on acure for AIDS.

“Poliomyelitis, commonly known as polio, is an acute viral infection.”Polio is the “inflammation of the gray anterior matter of the spinal cord.” Theinflammation would destroy the nerve cells. As a result of the lost nerve cells,the muscles that those nerve cells controlled would no longer be functional.

Polio has long been a disease in this world. Mummies with one legshorter than the other, and a memorial that shows a priest with one leg witheredare two examples of ancient artifacts possibly proving the polio virus’sexistence as far back as 1500 B.C. The first written record of an outbreak ofpolio is in 1835. It occurred in Workshop, England with the record stating,”Four remarkable cases of suddenly induced paralysis, occurring in children…”Nevertheless, it was not until 1916 that the United States became well aware ofthe polio dilemma. In that year, there were 27,363 cases of polio with 7,179resulting in death. Unfortunately, the problem didn’t go away; in New York Citythere were 9,023 cases with 2,448 deaths. “The epidemics peaked in the UnitedStates from 1942 to 1943,…In 1950, there were more than 33,000 United Statescases.” The state of Florida was one of the many states that was hit hard withpolio. The director of the Florida Department of Public Health, Dr. WilsonSowder, said, “I have not seen a communicable disease that has disrupted acommunity…as this has.” The disease “was communicable as an intestinal virusthat would spread from the stomach to the nervous system.” It was “transmittedin fecal matter or in secretions of the nose and throat, the virus enters itsvictim by way of the mouth…” It was not only the fact that it was so easy toget that made it terrifying, but it was the effects the disease had on itsvictim. There would be those that somehow recovered completely, yet that wasnot the usual. Some would die, others would not be able to use their legs orboth their legs and arms. Even more staggering, there were those that couldonly move an arm, or just their fingers and eyes. “Some would remain in an ironlung–a great, 1,800-pound casketlike contraption…The iron lung hissed andsighed rhythmically, performing artificial respiration by way of air pressure”,said Charles L. Mee. During the summers in Florida, kids would not be allowedto go to the movies or to the pools because of the parents fear of themcontracting the virus. Due to the consequences, polio “aroused as much alarm inthat era as does AIDS today.”Finally, on April 12, 1955 it was announced that Dr. Jonas Salk, using atechnique reported by Dr. John F. Enders in 1949, had discovered a cure thatcould be depended upon to immunize humans from polio. “Overnight, Jonas E. Salkwas a hero,” said Kathleen Arsenault, a librarian at the University of SouthFlorida at Bayboro.1 Everyone was so relieved that a vaccine had been foundthat they “observed moments of silence, rang bells, honked horns, blew factorywhistles, fired salutes, kept their traffic lights red in brief periods oftribute, took the rest of the day off, closed their schools or convoked fervidassemblies therein, drank toasts, hugged children, attended church, smiled atstrangers, forgave enemies.” It “consummated the most extraordinary undertakingin the history of science.” Although Dr. Salk tried to take no credit for whathe and his fellow workers had accomplished, the public ignored his words andgave all the credit to him. Jonas Salk “awakened that morning as a moderatelyprominent research professor on the faculty of the University of PittsburghSchool of Medicine. He ended the day as the most beloved medical scientist onearth.” Dr. Salk did not patent his vaccine, therefore, he did not receive anyroyalties for it, though he could have been a millionaire. As it was though, hereceived many tokens of gratitude.

“The ardent people named schools, streets, hospitals, and new-borninfants after him. They sent him checks, cash, money orders, stamps, scrolls,certificates, pressed flowers, snapshots, candy, baked goods, religious medals,rabbits’ feet and other talismans, and uncounted thousands of letters and telegrams, bothindividual and round-robin, describing their heartfelt gratitude and admiration.

They offered him free automobiles, agricultural equipment, clothing, vacations,lucrative jobs in government and industry, and several hundred opportunities to getrich quick. Their legislatures and parliaments passed resolutions, and their headsof state issued proclamations. Their universities tendered honorary degrees. Hewas nominated for the Nobel prize, which he did not get, and a Congressionalmedal, which he got, and membership in the National Academy of Sciences, whichturned him down. He was mentioned for several dozen lesser awards ofnational or local or purely promotional character, most of which he turned down.”Dr. Salk is thought of most for his polio vaccine, yet he is thescientist who invented the flu shot. The flu virus is an illness that affectsthe digestive track, most often the stomach walls. He and Dr. Francis developedthe vaccine in 1976 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. That vaccinehelps many people today to get through the flu season without any or littlesuffering.

The United States has been free of polio since September of 1991. TheUnited Nations agency stated that this was true in all of the WesternHemisphere: the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Eventhough the Western Hemisphere is polio free, the rest of the world is very farfrom it. There are still approximately 120,000 cases a year. That number isdecreasing: in 1992 there where a reported 15,911 cases in a total of 58countries, whereas in 1993 there where only 7,898 cases reported in a total of46 countries. That is a 50 percent decrease in only one year. There was also141 countries that reported no cases of polio in all of 1993. One organizationaffiliated with polio elimination is The Rotary Foundation. This group hasdeveloped a program called PolioPlus. This program’s goal is to eradicate polioworldwide by the year 2005. This goal will prove to be a very expensiveendeavor; over 10 years it could cost up to as much as 1.4 billion dollars.

One event that has helped make the United States polio free is that childrenmust have received the polio vaccination before they can enter the public schoolsystem. Everyone is working together, though, to try and eradicate polioworldwide. Japan and the United States have agreed to a joint health programfor children to do away with polio by the year 2000. Although the whole worldseems to be on its way to being polio free, the polio survivors are stillsuffering. “Nearly a third of the 1.6 million polio survivors have begun todevelop puzzling ailments, such as fatigue, muscle weakness and atrophy, and insome cases difficulty breathing.” This “ailment” is known as post-poliosyndrome. The theory behind this problem is “the initial viral attack kills anumber of motor neurons and weakens some of the surviving nerve cells. As thepost-polio patient ages, these damaged neurons increasingly lose theirconnections to muscles, which stop responding.” Other symptoms that accompanypost-polio syndrome are as follows: chronic muscle pain, sensitivity to coldweather, and sleeping problems. Of all the polio survivors, ninety percent ofthem are predicted to contract post-polio syndrome. It has been found that fromthe time of the original disease to the time of the contraction of post-poliosyndrome is about thirty years. Herman Oliger had to quit work because of post-polio syndrome. “Any strenuous activity would have to be followed with morethan eight hours of sleep and in some cases, two days of rest.” As a result ofthis debilitating illness, some people must go back to the use of leg braces orwheelchairs or even the iron lung. The only organization that has been formedto help this type of people is the Arkansas League of Polio Survivors located inLittle Rock. This organization was founded by Margie R. Loschke who is a post-polio sufferer herself. It is a non-profit establishment, there are no dues,and they give moral support to those who are suffering. Post-polio syndrome isan inept thing to happen, yet there are no doctors that are capable of helpingthese people. “Polio hasn’t been taught in medical school since the vaccinecame out, so there’s not but a very few doctors (and) therapists who knowanything about polio and the polio muscles,” said Margie Loschke. As a resultof the polio survivors, physical therapy was born. “And now they’ve pushed themaway and forgotten all about them.” If there were to be an accident involving apost-polio syndrome person “there’d be nobody in that hospital, no medicalpersonnel…that would know how to handle a post-polio body without injuringit,” said Loschke.

Not only are there people being affected by polio in one way or theother, there are still people being affected by the flu. Jonas Salk alsoinvented a flu vaccine, however, it is more on a temporary scale. Anotherreason the flu is still around is that there are many different strains of theflu, and doctors have a hard time predicting the ones that will be infectingpeople in the up and coming flu seasons.

Lastly, Jonas Salk is now working on a vaccine for the polio of today,AIDS. He is working on a vaccine made of killed viruses, but so far he has notacquired any substantial results. In the summer of 1994, the United States didconduct a large-scale test of Dr. Salk’s proposed AIDS vaccine. This vaccinehas shown the “growth of the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, slowedsubstantially in infected volunteers given three injections of the vaccine.”However, Dr. David Ho of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center said, “There’sabsolutely no evidence that the vaccine did any good.” Dr. Ho is not alone inhis thoughts, many experts on the Food and Drug Administration panel feel thesame. This panel also said that this has “lowered the standards” and has causedmore confusion on how to treat AIDS patients. It is ironic, in a way, that Dr.

Salk is working on a vaccine for AIDS. Some scientists truly believe that “theAIDS epidemic was sparked 30 years ago by a polio vaccine, which wasaccidentally contaminated with a monkey virus.” Through all the criticismthough, Dr. Salk said, ” My job, at the moment, is to help people see what I see.

If it’s of value, fine. And if it’s not of value, then at least I’ve done whatI can do.”Jonas Edward Salk may be the most well known scientist because of hispolio vaccine. Although he was poor growing up, he did well in school. Thisstandard was continued into his employment as a bacteriologist. During his stayat Pittsburgh University, the world was suffering immensely from the poliodisease. Dr. Salk was named a hero when he found the vaccine for it. He alsohelped in the suffering from the flu viruses. Dr. Salk has attributed to thepolio free Western Hemisphere of today, yet another problem has arisen in thepost-polio syndrome ailment. Now, Jonas Salk is working on a vaccine for thedreaded disease at this time, the AIDS virus. It might be possible for one manto save two generations of people in one lifetime. As Dr. Salk says, “I havethis way of being right.”

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