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The life and work of Dr. Jonas Salk

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Par   •  6 Janvier 2018  •  Dissertation  •  896 Mots (4 Pages)  •  795 Vues

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The life and work of Dr. Jonas Salk

Scientists can, and have in several occasions, revolutionize the world through their advances in the different fields in whice they dedicate their lives. This is especially important in the medical field, where lives are saved every day with the development of new technologies, medicines and vaccines to previously devastating illnesses, as is the case with Dr. Jonas Salk. Salk dedicated himself to the study of polio and successfully developed a vaccine that helped curtail this disease in the United States and the whole world, saving in the process millions of lives.

Jonas Salk was born in New York City in 1914 to immigrant parents who came the United States looking for a new life in the buoying country. As a young student, Salk showed promise and at twelve years old, he managed to enter Townsend Harris High School for Gifted Students, where he graduated at fifteen and decided to go to law school. Although this information may not seem that important, it is interesting to think what would have happened if Salk had not become a doctor but a lawyer instead.

In any case, after a while, he decided he no longer wanted to be an attorney and decided he wanted to become a physician: "When he entered medical school the Great Depression was in full swing. His parents had to borrow money to pay for his first year" (Staff). Medical school was the definitive experience for Salk and his passion, he managed to get scholarships to finish his degree, and found his calling: working in the lab.

In medical school, he was influenced by Dr. Francis Jr., one of his teachers, that showed Salk how from a dead virus, a vaccine could be developed to fight a disease. After Salk graduated medical school, he began working for his teacher and with him a successful vaccine for influenza was developed, and they were approached by the National Foundation of Infantile Paralysis, who funded research for a polio vaccine.

To understand the full impact of Salk's work, it is vital to understand polio as an illness that deeply affected the country. Polio is, effectively, a virus that paralyzes the nervous system. The worst case scenario is death and even if the person survives, there is a risk they will be paralyzed. In one decade, the 1930s, a polio epidemic caused 27,000 deaths in the United States, and thousands of people became paralyzed: "when towns and cities abruptly closed swimming pools to the public, churches shut their doors to worshippers and theater operators darkened their marquees. All it took was a polio outbreak" (Robbins).

It was in the University of Pittsburg where Salk started to develop the polio vaccine, and after a few doubts from the scientific community, in 1955 his vaccine was licensed by the U.S. government and he became a hero of the people for what he had done. For his vaccine to fight polio, Salk received the Congressional Medal for Civilian Service in 1956. To evaluate the impact of Dr. Salk's work it is only necessary to look at the numbers: In 1952, 60,000 children were infected with polio, 3,000 died and many more thousands were paralyzed, but "after the vaccine was introduced in 1955, the number of cases rapidly declined. Health officials reported less than 2,500 cases in 1957. Only 61 cases of paralytic polio were reported by 1965." (Cavanaugh, Lane and Pico).

Nonetheless,

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