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March 2021

POLIOMYELITIS IN COPENHAGEN 1952.*

Journal/Book: Reprinted from the Glasgow Medical Journal March 1954 vol. 35 pp. 59 - 63.. 1954;

Abstract: H. C. A. LASSEN M.D. Professor of Epidemiology and Infectious Diseases Blegdam Hospital Copenhagen. * Paper read before The Royal :Medico-Chirurgical Society of Glasgow 23rd October 1953. The metropolitan area of Copenhagen has a population of about 1 200 000 and is served by a single hospital for communicable diseases the Blegdam Hospital with about 500 beds. During the last 5 months of 1952 we received some 3 000 patients with the diagnosis of poliomyelitis of whom roughly one third were paralyzed. This of course was itself extraordinary but still more unusual was the high incidence of respiratory insufficiency with or without impairment of swallowing. Almost one third of the paralyzed patients belonged to this group. At times we had seventy patients requiring artificial respiration ; in January 1953 the number had fallen to fifty or sixty. At the time of making the present analysis (April 1953) between 25 and 30 were left from the 1952 epidemic still dependent an artificial respiration. The epidemic culminated about the 1st of September. During the week August 28th to September 3rd we admitted 335 patients with polio or nearly 50 cases daily. About one tenth of these patients were suffocating or drowning in their own secretions. We felt as if in a state of war ill equipped both theoretically and practically to cope with a catastrophe of such magnitude. At our disposal we had one tank respirator (Emerson) and six cuirass respirators. This equipment was insufficient when the epidemic got into its stride and we had to find some way of avoiding the impossible situation of having to choose which patient to treat and which patient not to treat with the available respirators. Clearly every single patient had to have an equal chance of survival. In former years our therapeutic results in cases with respiratory insufficiency and involvement of the lower cranial nerves and the bulbar centres had been very bad. During the eleven years 1934-1944 respirator treatment was used in 76 cases with a mean mortality-rate of 80 per cent. Only cuirass respirators were used. Thus the prognosis of poliomyelitis with respiratory insufficiency was rather gloomy at the outbreak of the 1952 epidemic in Copenhagen. ... ___MH


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