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Views & Reviews Review of the Week

At war with polio

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 12 January 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d180
  1. Julian Sheather, ethics manager, BMA

This novel, set during a polio epidemic in a US city in wartime, reminds Julian Sheather of medicine’s progress

Newark, New Jersey: a sweltering, “equatorial” summer. It is 1944 and the United States is at war, fighting in Europe and the Pacific. “Bucky” Cantor, playground director in the city’s Weequahic district, is a short but fit Jew, a high diver and weightlifter. In his charge during that long summer are the neighbourhood kids, girls and boys from tightly knit Jewish families, kids escaping small apartments and narrow yards, kids in search of a little air and elbow room. But summer in Newark is menaced by contagion. Bordered by once malarial swamps, the air putrid from upwind Secaucus—“the hog capital of Hudson County”—it swelters in a toxic, “all-blanketing” miasma.

The first case of polio is reported early in June in the Italian district. By 4 July the number has risen to 40, scattered throughout the city. Not until well into the summer though do the first cases appear in the …

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