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American West Center at University of Utah Looking for Polio Survivors

Jan. 6, 2010 — During the first half of the 20th Century, the terror known as Polio afflicted between 13,000 to 20,000 people per year in the US. In Utah, during one particularly virulent six-week period, more than 200 confirmed cases of polio were reported. This dreaded disease struck mostly young people, with no discrimination of race, sex or socio-economic status.

Until 1955, when a vaccine first became available, treatment methods for polio victims varied and outcomes were unpredictable. Many survivors led lives without apparent disability; some did not. Nearly all survivors, however, developed post-polio syndrome later in life, a condition characterized by unaccustomed fatigue, muscle weakness and atrophy. Although the disease was declared eradicated in the US in 1994, Polio still poses a health threat in certain locations worldwide, and among those not vaccinated. It also serves as a touchstone for any contemporary discussions of epidemics and they are approached.

In an effort to document the social and cultural history of Polio locally – especially the course, treatment and long-term outcomes of Polio victims – the American West Center at the University of Utah is developing an oral history record of Polio survivors and clinicians who treated Polio. The materials gathered will be available to clinicians, researchers and the general public through the Special Collections Department of the University of Utah’s Marriott Library.

“This is a timely project,” Dr. Matthew Basso, the American West Center’s Director, said. “Typical polio survivors are now reaching their sixties and seventies. It’s important to record this information while we still can.”

In 1964 the American West Center at the University of Utah was founded as a research organization devoted to the study, collection and dissemination of knowledge about issues affecting Western America. The Center has participated in a number of important research projects. Most notably, the Center has collected more than 7,000 oral history interviews covering varied topics including ethnic populations and minority communities, Utah war veterans, and environmental policy issues. Research materials generated through the American West Center are available to scholars and the general public alike.

For more information about this project, or if you are a clinician, Polio survivor, or in some other way related to the history of Polio in Utah, please call 801.581.7611 or email