Polio in Minnesota

The Minnesota Department of Health has confirmed five cases of polio in Amish children in Minnesota. All five cases have been from the same Amish community near Clarissa, Minnesota. The last significant outbreak of polio was in 1979 and occurred primarily in Amish communities in Pennsylvania.

Polio Virus: Illustration of polio virus. Courtsey of CDC/Barbara Rice.

Polio, or Poliomyelitis, is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus. Polio mainly infects children, especially those under the age of three. At the peak of the polio epidemic in 1952, nearly 60,000 cases, resulting in 3,000 deaths, were reported in the United States. There are four forms of polio.

  • 95% of polio infections are asymptomatic, meaning they produce no symptoms at all.

The remaining 5% of polio cases result in physical symptoms.

  • Abortive polio is similar to the flu.
  • Nonparalyic polio causes sensitivity to light and sore muscles.
  • Paralytic polio, the most severe form, causes permanent muscle paralysis.

None of the five reported victims are showing symptoms of paralytic polio.

Polio was virtually eliminated from the Western hemisphere in the late 20th century after the polio vaccine became widely available, but the disease continues to cause illness in other parts of the world.

Polio Vaccination Poster: This 1964 poster featured what at that time, was CDC's national symbol of public health, the "Wellbee", who here was reminding the public to get a booster vaccination. Image courtsey of the CDC/ Mary Hilpertshauser.

Most everyone nowadays is vaccinated for Polio. But vaccinations are not common in the Amish community. Still, Amish are not the only group that do not get vaccinations: in Minnesota, about 2% of parents opt out of vaccination programs for school age children. Doctors across the country are using this outbreak to encourage members of the Amish community, and those outside of the Amish community who have opted out of the vaccination programs, to reconsider their decisions and get vaccinated.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Liza's picture
Liza says:

Here's the October 14th announcement of the first four cases of polio in Minnesota.

As Joe wrote, many American children are under-vaccinated. A 2003 CDC survey revealed that, by age two, more than 1/3 of American children have been at least six months late getting one or more standard childhood immunizations, and only 18% of kids in the U.S. are getting all their vaccinations when they should.

The MedPageToday Teaching Brief cited above goes on to say:

"There is also concern under-vaccinated children may be geographically clustered...which would raise the potential for outbreaks and if children aren't properly immunized, rates of infection could be exacerbated. For example, the CDC points to an outbreak of whooping cough in the 1990s in which 25 infants died, 15 of whom had not been vaccinated in time."

A survey by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health showed that most parents who opt out of standard immunizations for their school-age children do so not because of any religious beliefs but because they believe the shots could harm their kids. According to the MedPageToday Teaching Brief that reported this finding:

"...69% of the parents surveyed in four states whose children had shot exemptions cited concern about the safety of vaccines as their chief reason for rejecting them.... Nearly half said that vaccines might 'overload the immune system.' Other reasons for requesting exemptions from mandatory school-entrance vaccinations included the belief that children weren't at risk for the disease anyway, that the disease was not dangerous, or that the vaccines might not work.... Exemptions for religious, ethical or moral reasons (i.e. opposition to animal testing of vaccines) ranked lower among their reasons for not being vaccinated."

A survey of primary-care pediatricians in Chicago showed that 39% of those doctors would end their relationships with families who refused all vaccines, and 28% would end their relationships with families who refused some vaccines. 85% of the doctors surveyed had treated patients who refused some vaccines, and 54% had patients who turned down all vaccines.

While rejecting patients may not be quite the right approach, those doctors have a convincing point. The truth is, unvaccinated children are at greater risk for contracting vaccine-preventable diseases and they're more likely to transmit those diseases to children too young to be vaccinated, people who can't be vaccinated because of medical problems, and people who, for some reason, don't develop immunity after being vaccinated. "Bucking the Herd", an article published in The Atlantic Monthly in 2002, uses the experience of families in Boulder, Colorado, to show how parents who refuse vaccination for their kids may be putting entire communities at risk.

Read the USFDA publication "Understanding Vaccine Safety: Immunization Remains Our Best Defense Against Deadly Disease."

Here is a list of six common misconceptions about vaccination and how to respond to them. And this CDC site describes what would happen if we stopped giving vaccinations.

This message board run by the Berkeley Parents Network shows the kinds of questions and answers parents are asking and giving each other on the subject of vaccination.

And here's a personal observation: my daycare provider, who works from her home, recently asked another family to leave her program because they refused to vaccinate their child. While I respect those parents' right to reject vaccines on religious or philosophical grounds, I also say, "Go, Deb! Keep the other kids safe!"

posted on Wed, 10/26/2005 - 10:15am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I don't understand why someone would make a family leave the daycare for not vaccinating. What is there to be so worried about if all the other children have been. If they have been "vaccinated" then shouldn't they be "protected" from whatever you are so worried about them getting from a child not vaccinated?

posted on Mon, 03/19/2007 - 8:54pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Well, a few reasons:

A) It's an in-home, mixed-age daycare, with kids as young as 8 weeks. So some of them have not been vaccinated yet.

B) Some kids *can't* be vaccinated, for a variety of reasons.

C) In some cases, antibody levels don't reach a level required for true immunity, despite vaccination.

In all three of these cases, the protective factor is something called "herd immunity." If all the other kids are vaccinated, it protects the ones who can't be or who fail to develop immunity.

posted on Mon, 03/19/2007 - 9:20pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Here's a New York Times article about polio in Minnesota.

posted on Tue, 11/08/2005 - 10:52am
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Polio victims shed so many viral particles in their stool that tests at sewage treatment plants can detect the presence of a single polio victim in the city/water treatment area.

posted on Wed, 11/09/2005 - 11:35am
mamaknows's picture
mamaknows says:

Do you know anything about what they did to the African in 1977. RECOMMENDED that they get vaccinated for Polio, these Africans submitted to the Polio vaccination only be to deceived the vaccine was contaminated with the AIDs virus. American also took place in the vaccination scam, vaccinating Homosexual men with AIDS contaminated Hep B vaccine in 1978. This was all to control the population a race and a homosexual ("problem")
I don't trust these people

posted on Sat, 04/07/2007 - 4:15pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

I'm sorry that you've been given bad information. There are a lot of "conspiracy" theories out there, and you've just cited two of the biggies when it comes to vaccination.

Polio vaccine was NEVER contaminated with the AIDS virus, and neither was the hepatitis B vaccine. (Contaminated needles, though, are capable of spreading both; this is why most vaccines now come in single use vials, and needles are intended to be used and disposed of without being reused.)

I've heard the same stories over and over again, only with different vaccines supposedly linked to different diseases.

It's good to be skeptical, and I think we all have reason to mistrust some of the pharmaceutical companies or even the FDA. But the risks of infectious diseases are known, and they far outweigh any risks of vaccination.

posted on Wed, 04/11/2007 - 12:34pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

You've read this far. Now participate in our poll and tell us what you think: should doctors end their relationships with patients who refuse vaccines?

posted on Sat, 11/12/2005 - 3:01pm
David's picture
David says:

Should doctors also end their relationships with other people who do unhealthy things - like continue to smoke at home with children around? It's just not an option to 'terminate relationships' just because people don't comply.

posted on Sun, 01/08/2006 - 12:11pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

smoking is bad

posted on Sun, 04/08/2007 - 12:48pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

A related story...

The Minnesota Department of Health has asked doctors to be on the lookout for cases of mumps after a teacher and a bus driver came down with the disease.

Since vaccination programs went into effect in 1967, there are fewer than 1,000 cases of mumps each year in the U.S. (down from 200,000 cases before the shots).

posted on Thu, 12/01/2005 - 9:22pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I believe doctors take an oath which prevents them from refusing to help people despite the circumstances. If someone wants to get political on the Amish they should do so without trying to manipulate the medical profession.

posted on Sat, 12/10/2005 - 8:24am
SMM member19's picture
SMM member19 says:

I think that parents shoul have the choice to vaccinate their children. thay should be. but the parents can choose. doctors can,t refuse them!

posted on Fri, 12/23/2005 - 3:10pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I think that if they dont want vacinotions dont make them because they will not come back.

posted on Wed, 12/28/2005 - 7:18pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Get the vaccine at birth!!!!!!!

posted on Wed, 01/04/2006 - 11:43am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

thimerisol. autism. need i say more?

posted on Sat, 01/07/2006 - 3:58pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

In fact, there is no link between thimerosal and autism.

The medical journal The Lancet, which published studies by Dr. Andrew Wakefield--the first to suggest a link between vaccines and autism, has disowned his studies as bad study design and conflicts of interest came to light. Wakefield, who no longer practices medicine in the UK, is also facing charges related to his serious professional misconduct.

Also, a study in the most recent issue of Pediatrics looked at 28,000 children born between 1987 and 1998 and found that the rate of autism diagnosis increased even as thimerosal was removed from vaccines and fewer children received the MMR vaccine.

Study after big study has shown that there is no causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism or the MMR vaccine and autism. And there is no evidence of autism onset clustering around the time of MMR vaccination.

The scientific evidence is clear, and yet the media and Internet continue to fuel parents' fears. This means many children aren't protected against completely preventable diseases, and illnesses like measles are making a comeback...

posted on Thu, 07/06/2006 - 9:46am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

get real!

posted on Sat, 01/07/2006 - 6:14pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

It's not the doctor's job to decide who should and who shouldn't take their advice. A doctor reccomends percriptions because they don't know all extenuating circumstances of the patient, and they leave it up to the patient to decide what's best for them.
fight the power.

posted on Wed, 01/11/2006 - 12:03pm

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