Jonas Salk Essay Research Paper Jonas Salk

Jonas Salk Essay, Research Paper

Jonas Salk

From the beginning of mankind, man has looked for cures of illness. Jonas

Salk 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 still

being used today to eradicate polio worldwide. Dr. Salk is also known for other

medical discoveries. He was a quiet man who lived a rough childhood. He was

not 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’s

vaccine was a great relief to everyone. Yet, today polio is still affecting

people, 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 the

flu virus at a low. At this time, Jonas Salk is working on a vaccine for the

most feared disease of today, AIDS.

Jonas Edward Salk was born to Polish-Jewish immigrants, Daniel B. and

Dora Salk, on October 28, 1914. Dr. Salk was born in upper Manhattan, but then

moved 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 a

responsive child.” Dr. Salk was “raised on the verge of poverty.” Although

his 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 the

College of the City of New York where he received his B.S. in 1934. He finally

earned his M.D. degree in June of 1939 from the New York University College of

Medicine. Jonas Salk was “a somewhat withdrawn and indistinct figure” but was

always reading whatever he could lay his hands on. Dr. Salk went on to intern

for two years at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. He then moved on to the

University of Michigan in Ann Arbor as a research professor in the Department of

Epidemology. It was here that he found a vaccine for influenza, commonly called

the flu, while he worked with Dr. Thomas Francis Jr. In 1947, when the

University of Pittsburgh expanded, he went to work there with a part in his

contract that said he could go back to Ann Arbor if things didn’t work out, no

questions asked. At this school he became what he is known as today, a

bacteriologist. It was here that he developed the polio vaccination. Dr. Salk

then left his field of endeavor because of all the fame and ridicule from his

colleagues. In 1963, Jonas Salk set up the Salk Institute for Biological

Studies in La Jolla, California. This facility was made possible through funds

from the March of Dimes. At this time, he is eighty years old and working on a

cure 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.” The

inflammation 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 leg

shorter than the other, and a memorial that shows a priest with one leg withered

are two examples of ancient artifacts possibly proving the polio virus’s

existence as far back as 1500 B.C. The first written record of an outbreak of

polio 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 of

the polio dilemma. In that year, there were 27,363 cases of polio with 7,179

resulting in death. Unfortunately, the problem didn’t go away; in New York City

there were 9,023 cases with 2,448 deaths. “The epidemics peaked in the United

States from 1942 to 1943,…In 1950, there were more than 33,000 United States

cases.” The state of Florida was one of the many states that was hit hard with

polio. The director of the Florida Department of Public Health, Dr. Wilson

Sowder, said, “I have not seen a communicable disease that has disrupted a

community…as this has.” The disease “was communicable as an intestinal virus

that would spread from the stomach to the nervous system.” It was “transmitted

in fecal matter or in secretions of the nose and throat, the virus enters its

victim by way of the mouth…” It was not only the fact that it was so easy to

get that made it terrifying, but it was the effects the disease had on its

victim. There would be those that somehow recovered completely, yet that was

not the usual. Some would die, others would not be able to use their legs or

both their legs and arms. Even more staggering, there were those that could

only move an arm, or just their fingers and eyes. “Some would remain in an iron

lung–a great, 1,800-pound casketlike contraption…The iron lung hissed and

sighed rhythmically, performing artificial respiration by way of air pressure”,

said Charles L. Mee. During the summers in Florida, kids would not be allowed

to go to the movies or to the pools because of the parents fear of them

contracting the virus. Due to the consequences, polio “aroused as much alarm in

that era as does AIDS today.”

Finally, on April 12, 1955 it was announced that Dr. Jonas Salk, using a

technique reported by Dr. John F. Enders in 1949, had discovered a cure that

could be depended upon to immunize humans from polio. “Overnight, Jonas E. Salk

was a hero,” said Kathleen Arsenault, a librarian at the University of South

Florida at Bayboro.1 Everyone was so relieved that a vaccine had been found

that they “observed moments of silence, rang bells, honked horns, blew factory

whistles, fired salutes, kept their traffic lights red in brief periods of

tribute, took the rest of the day off, closed their schools or convoked fervid

assemblies therein, drank toasts, hugged children, attended church, smiled at

strangers, forgave enemies.” It “consummated the most extraordinary undertaking

in the history of science.” Although Dr. Salk tried to take no credit for what

he and his fellow workers had accomplished, the public ignored his words and

gave all the credit to him. Jonas Salk “awakened that morning as a moderately

prominent research professor on the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh

School of Medicine. He ended the day as the most beloved medical scientist on

earth.” Dr. Salk did not patent his vaccine, therefore, he did not receive any

royalties for it, though he could have been a millionaire. As it was though, he

received many tokens of gratitude.

“The ardent people named schools, streets, hospitals, and new-born

infants 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, both

individual 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 get

rich quick. Their legislatures and parliaments passed resolutions, and their heads

of state issued proclamations. Their universities tendered honorary degrees. He

was nominated for the Nobel prize, which he did not get, and a Congressional

medal, which he got, and membership in the National Academy of Sciences, which

turned him down. He was mentioned for several dozen lesser awards of

national 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 the

scientist who invented the flu shot. The flu virus is an illness that affects

the digestive track, most often the stomach walls. He and Dr. Francis developed

the vaccine in 1976 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. That vaccine

helps many people today to get through the flu season without any or little


The United States has been free of polio since September of 1991. The

United Nations agency stated that this was true in all of the Western

Hemisphere: the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Even

though the Western Hemisphere is polio free, the rest of the world is very far

from it. There are still approximately 120,000 cases a year. That number is

decreasing: in 1992 there where a reported 15,911 cases in a total of 58

countries, whereas in 1993 there where only 7,898 cases reported in a total of

46 countries. That is a 50 percent decrease in only one year. There was also

141 countries that reported no cases of polio in all of 1993. One organization

affiliated with polio elimination is The Rotary Foundation. This group has

developed a program called PolioPlus. This program’s goal is to eradicate polio

worldwide by the year 2005. This goal will prove to be a very expensive

endeavor; 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 children

must have received the polio vaccination before they can enter the public school

system. Everyone is working together, though, to try and eradicate polio

worldwide. Japan and the United States have agreed to a joint health program

for children to do away with polio by the year 2000. Although the whole world

seems to be on its way to being polio free, the polio survivors are still

suffering. “Nearly a third of the 1.6 million polio survivors have begun to

develop puzzling ailments, such as fatigue, muscle weakness and atrophy, and in

some cases difficulty breathing.” This “ailment” is known as post-polio

syndrome. The theory behind this problem is “the initial viral attack kills a

number of motor neurons and weakens some of the surviving nerve cells. As the

post-polio patient ages, these damaged neurons increasingly lose their

connections to muscles, which stop responding.” Other symptoms that accompany

post-polio syndrome are as follows: chronic muscle pain, sensitivity to cold

weather, and sleeping problems. Of all the polio survivors, ninety percent of

them are predicted to contract post-polio syndrome. It has been found that from

the time of the original disease to the time of the contraction of post-polio

syndrome is about thirty years. Herman Oliger had to quit work because of post-

polio syndrome. “Any strenuous activity would have to be followed with more

than eight hours of sleep and in some cases, two days of rest.” As a result of

this debilitating illness, some people must go back to the use of leg braces or

wheelchairs or even the iron lung. The only organization that has been formed

to help this type of people is the Arkansas League of Polio Survivors located in

Little 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 is

an inept thing to happen, yet there are no doctors that are capable of helping

these people. “Polio hasn’t been taught in medical school since the vaccine

came out, so there’s not but a very few doctors (and) therapists who know

anything about polio and the polio muscles,” said Margie Loschke. As a result

of the polio survivors, physical therapy was born. “And now they’ve pushed them

away and forgotten all about them.” If there were to be an accident involving a

post-polio syndrome person “there’d be nobody in that hospital, no medical

personnel…that would know how to handle a post-polio body without injuring

it,” said Loschke.

Not only are there people being affected by polio in one way or the

other, there are still people being affected by the flu. Jonas Salk also

invented a flu vaccine, however, it is more on a temporary scale. Another

reason the flu is still around is that there are many different strains of the

flu, and doctors have a hard time predicting the ones that will be infecting

people 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 not

acquired any substantial results. In the summer of 1994, the United States did

conduct a large-scale test of Dr. Salk’s proposed AIDS vaccine. This vaccine

has shown the “growth of the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, slowed

substantially in infected volunteers given three injections of the vaccine.”

However, Dr. David Ho of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center said, “There’s

absolutely no evidence that the vaccine did any good.” Dr. Ho is not alone in

his thoughts, many experts on the Food and Drug Administration panel feel the

same. This panel also said that this has “lowered the standards” and has caused

more 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 “the

AIDS epidemic was sparked 30 years ago by a polio vaccine, which was

accidentally contaminated with a monkey virus.” Through all the criticism

though, 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 what

I can do.”

Jonas Edward Salk may be the most well known scientist because of his

polio vaccine. Although he was poor growing up, he did well in school. This

standard was continued into his employment as a bacteriologist. During his stay

at Pittsburgh University, the world was suffering immensely from the polio

disease. Dr. Salk was named a hero when he found the vaccine for it. He also

helped in the suffering from the flu viruses. Dr. Salk has attributed to the

polio free Western Hemisphere of today, yet another problem has arisen in the

post-polio syndrome ailment. Now, Jonas Salk is working on a vaccine for the

dreaded disease at this time, the AIDS virus. It might be possible for one man

to save two generations of people in one lifetime. As Dr. Salk says, “I have

this way of being right.”


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