Tracing the path towards eradicating polio

The first outbreak of polio in the United States was reported in 1894 after impacting nearly 150 adults and children. Scientists in the US and around the world would continue to search for a cure for more than 60 years before a solution was found. In the years following the first US outbreak, the number of cases reported each year rose to nearly 35,000.


Documenting polio’s impact as a research topic in the first half of the 20th century, Web of Science™ has indexed nearly 4,600 articles on polio published between 1898  and 1955. Collectively, those papers have been cited more than 41,000 times over the course of the last 100-plus years.


And citations have continued to accumulate in recent years. Since 2008, papers from the 1898-to-1955 cohort have been cited 648 times. 


Polio is a highly infectious viral disease that enters through the mouth, multiplies in the intestine, and then travels to the nervous system. Once dispersed in the nervous system, the virus can cause paralysis mere hours after exposure. The virus spreads rapidly in areas with poor hygiene and sanitation, which led to the rapid increase in cases in the years prior to finding a solution. Although primarily considered most dangerous to children, polio affects adults as well. The most famous victim of the virus was President Franklin D. Roosevelt who lost the use of both legs. 


After decades of searching for a method to prevent the spread of this highly infectious disease, Jonas Salk announced to the world on April 12, 1955, that he had developed the first polio vaccine. In 1957 it went into human clinical trials and was licensed in 1962. From his announcement to his vaccine’s licensing in 1962, Salk alone has 23 papers in Web of Science that have been cited a total of 474 times. 


The discovery of the vaccine made a huge impact across the world. Although the vaccine does not cure polio, it can prevent the disease’s onset and reduce transmission, in turn reducing the number of new cases per year.


In 1988, with 188,000 cases having been reported, the World Health Assembly resolved to eradicate polio worldwide.


As of September 18th, 2012, 145 polio cases were reported from only four countries around the world.


Just four years later, polio remains endemic in only two countries: Pakistan and Afghanistan. Certification of polio eradication is done on a regional basis and occurs only when each individual country within the region is free of transmission for three consecutive years. The Southeast Asia region was the last region to be certified as polio free with the eradication of polio in India in 2014. However, until polio is eradicated in Pakistan and Afghanistan, preventative measures should continue to be taken in order to prevent future outbreaks.


As scientists work to eradicate Polio from every country in the world, having access to and being able to track and trace the work of others through time is imperative.


A “Topic” search in Web of Science for “polio” or “poliomyelitis” yields more than 86,000 records. Of those, more than 71,000 of those papers were indexed in Web of Science after 1955 and the publication of “


Salk’s 1955 paper has been cited 41 times since being published. Those works citing Salk’s paper have gone on to be further cited 838 times.


In total all of Salk’s papers on polio have been cited over 1,600 times, continuing to further the impact of Salk’s work to aiding those suffering from Polio.


The number of cases of polio has decreased significantly since the implementation of Salk’s vaccination, which has changed the history of medicine for the better. However, the threat of polio still remains until it is fully eradicated from the world. With the help of Salk’s vaccine and many other medical strides the world can hope to finally see an end to this paralyzing disease.




1.^ a b Zamula E (1991). "A New Challenge for Former Polio Patients." FDA Consumer 25 (5): 21–5. gov, Cited in Poliomyelitis [Retrieved 2009-11-14].