COVID-19 Interest Group

                                          April 26 2020               


CIG Bulletin #9      Parallels to Polio – Tina Etcheverry and Jim Masters

 Dear Rotarians

As we enter World Immunization Week of April 24-30, 2020, we are celebrating the efforts of Rotary’s Polio Plus towards the eradication of polio. We are looking forward to a day when a vaccine to coronavirus will allow us to call COVID-19 a preventable disease. 

That leads us to the question, is there a parallel between COVID-19 and polio? Will Rotary have a role in the prevention of the disease? In our current state with no vaccine or quick cure, this virus reminds us of the early days of polio. 


“In about 95% of all polio cases, the person has no symptoms at all. These are known as asymptomatic cases. The rest of polio cases can be divided into three types: abortive polio, non-paralytic polio, and paralytic polio. 

Abortive polio: In these cases, polio is a mild illness, with viral-like symptoms such as fever, fatigue, headache, sore throat, nausea, and diarrhea. 

Non-paralytic polio: These cases typically involve the symptoms of abortive polio, with additional neurological symptoms, such as sensitivity to light and neck stiffness. 

Paralytic polio: The first signs of paralytic polio, after an initial period of viral-like symptoms, typically begin with loss of superficial reflexes and muscle pain or spasms. Paralysis, usually asymmetric, follows. Fewer than 1%-2% of people who contract polio become paralyzed. In most cases of paralytic polio, the patient recovers completely. However, for a certain number of people, paralysis or muscle weakness remains for life." 

Polio is a highly infectious disease that spreads through contact between people, by nasal and oral secretions, and feces. Polio has no cure, so prevention through vaccination is the most effective way to combat it. 

In the case of COVID-19, for all the people whom the virus infects (i.e. eventually probably most of the population), the odds are very small that the effects will be severe. But among those that develop pneumonia or cardiovascular complications, the tragedy is that a percentage of these people are dying. 

The polio vaccine, first announced in March, 1953 by Dr. Jonas Salk, is very effective. Prior to that time, epidemics would erupt every several years in various locations and the response would be to close schools and maintain social distancing. Through vaccinations, polio has been eradicated in all countries except Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria where there are “only” about 100 cases of paralytic polio identified each year. (The numbers could well be higher from undiagnosed cases). Rotary International, the Gates Foundation and others continue to vaccinate children all over the world. Teams of volunteers go into some very hostile areas.

This same Polio Eradication staff is using its vast infrastructure to deliver support to the coronavirus outbreaks in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Africa. This group is offering more surveillance, generating awareness, and acting as a coordination hub. They have started using their existing polio data management for tracking coronavirus cases in third world countries.


 Below is an excerpt from a letter about COVID-19 from Jonathan Salk, referring to his father:

"He would have recognized the COVID-19 pandemic not only as something to be feared and fought, but also as a moment to embrace wisdom. He would have seen this crisis as an opportunity to shift from individualism to interdependence. He would have told us that fighting the pandemic demands replacing the “us first,” win/lose mindset with a “we together,” win/win mindset, and he would have advised that, paradoxically, self-interest in this case is best served by generosity. He would have applauded cooperation and knowledge sharing among scientists and the altruism of medical workers and volunteers.... 

But my father was a scientist and an evidence-based thinker. Based on what he knew of evolution, he believed evolutionary pressures would nudge us in the right direction. He would have seen the pandemic as just such a nudge and would have appreciated the irony that a deadly virus, the same thing that prompted the advancement of medical science 65 years ago, might lead us now to advance social evolution toward a healthier, more cooperative, interdependent world where we can not only survive but thrive — if we only listen. 

Dr. Jonathan Salk is a practicing psychiatrist and teaches at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. “A New Reality,” the book he co-authored with his father Dr. Jonas Salk, was recently updated. 


The opinions expressed in this piece were based on information derived from public sources. However, these are our opinions and our attempt to assimilate multiple viewpoints. We do not pretend to be experts in the infectious disease field but bring our expertise from our prior training in science, engineering and medical fields to these issues as interested viewers.
















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