Viral diary: The global rise and near demise of polio

Vaccinating against polio (Image credit: Sanofi Pasteur via Flickr)
Vaccinating against polio (Image credit: Sanofi Pasteur via Flickr)

For most places in the world, the sight of children in leg calipers has been relegated to the pages of history. The paralysing effects of the poliovirus have become a thing of the past. The advent of the polio vaccine in the 1960s has seen polio progressively extinguished in well-off regions like North America, Australia and Europe, as well as in poorer parts of the world. Gradually — and with the dogged determination of coordinated vaccination teams — efforts to eradicate the disease have restricted its occurrence to just a handful of war-torn nations.

But as we await that final declaration that polio is no more, it’s perhaps a good time to reflect on how well we actually understand this mortal enemy. How does poliovirus infect? Why is it so debilitating? And will we, in fact, ever be able to rid the world forever of polio?

In the latest episode of Up Close I interviewed Vincent Racaniello, a virologist who’s investigated the intricacies of poliovirus infection. Vincent is Professor of Microbiology at Columbia University Medical Center and he’s also the creator of a number of science podcasts worth checking out including This Week in Virology, This Week in Microbiology and This Week in Parasitism.


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