Akron’s Children’s Hospital established the Ward for Crippled Children in 1905 when polio started becoming prevalent in the area.
The contagious viral disease, which only attacks humans and monkeys, causes muscle paralysis, mostly in children.
An annual report for 1918-1919 listed 42 cases in a 12-month period.
Local epidemics hit in 1927, 1933 and 1940, when Children’s Hospital was in the national news for treating five of six children in the same family who contracted polio after all having their tonsils removed. Three of the children died, and gave doctors important clues about the nature of the disease and the way it was spread.
In 1944, a severe outbreak sent 208 patients to the hospital, making Children’s Hospital the polio center for the state.
That potential epidemic faded away, only to return in 1947 with the worst episode to date. That summer and fall, there were 415 polio patients hospitalized, many from the city of Akron. The adjacent Grace Evangelical and Reformed Church offered space as an emergency hospital during the epidemic. All tonsil and adenoid surgeries in the city were canceled for fear of spreading the disease.
The next outbreak was even worse. In 1952, the number of diagnoses exceeded 600. The church ward was reopened and the Red Cross recruited 50 additional nurses in addition to 135 new hires made by the hospital.
Jonas Salk’s famed polio vaccine, administered in a series of three injections, became widely available by 1955 and was commonplace in area schools.
The last case of polio in the old Summit County Health Department jurisdiction (which did not include the cities of Akron and Barberton) was diagnosed in 1960. The last case in Akron was diagnosed in 1963. Records from the old Barberton Health Department were not readily available.
In 1962, local health officials mounted a major offensive to eradicate polio once and for all using a new oral vaccine developed by Albert Sabin. Within a month, 70 percent of all county residents were immunized.
Source: “Children’s Century: Children’s Hospital Medical Center of Akron, 1890 - 1990” by Patricia Zonsius; Summit County Health Department.