What disease caused us the greatest health concerns in years past?

At the top of most lists some 70 years ago was polio. No one knew how it was transmitted, nor was their satisfactory treatment. The fear of crippling paralysis or fateful existence in an iron lung loomed as possibilities.

Cases seemed to be most prevalent in the summertime, leading to the suspicion that the disease might be transmitted through water. Public pools and swimming holes were off-limits for children of fearful parents.

As I was growing up normally as a child, my legs often ached. I simply called it leg ache, as many of my friends had similar pain. Spells would sometime last for days. Grownups called it growing pains.

None of us dared to voice our fear of its being a symptom of polio. I vividly remember slipping off to the barn loft and laying on the hay to rub my legs when they hurt — hiding my pain from my parents to protect them from worry.

I outgrew the age for my tricycle during the World War II era. Orders were mailed to Sears Roebuck and then to Montgomery Ward for a bicycle for me. Each time the order was returned marked “not available.” Materials were going toward the war effort, not kids’ bikes.

My uncle learned of a used bike that belonged to a girl in town who unfortunately had contracted polio. She was disabled by paralysis and could no longer manage it. He bought it for his daughter, my cousin, and playmate. We could both ride!

But when my parents heard about the plans, they told me, in no uncertain terms, not to touch the bike. Assurances from the owner that the bike had been sanitized did not offset the unknown risk. I obeyed. I weighed the choice, and, truthfully, I never felt cheated out of this pleasure, although I never learned to ride a bike.

The (Jonas E.) Salk injection vaccine was developed in 1953, tested, and pronounced safe and effective in 1955. A second vaccine, to be taken by mouth, was developed by (Albert B.) Sabin and approved for use in 1961.

By then, I had two daughters of my own, and I was buoyant with joy as I took them to the Russellville Elementary School building where the vaccine was being administered to the community’s children on a set day.

Another malady had been conquered! -along with smallpox, typhoid, whooping cough, diphtheria, scarlet fever, and other terrible diseases. Yet, as we see, another threatening malady can suddenly appear to be dealt with — and conquered.