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March 2021

The Epidemic of Poliomyelitis in Copenhagen 1952

Journal/Book: Reprinted from PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY OF MEDICINE January 1954 Vol. 47 No. 1 pp. 67-74 (Section of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine pp. 1-8).. 1954;

Abstract: Professor H. C. A. LASSEN Professor of Epidemiology University of Copenhagen Chief Physician Blegdam Hospital Copenhagen Denmark also The Anæsthetist's Viewpoint on the Treatment of Respiratory Complications in Poliomyelitis during the Epidemic by Dr. Bjørn Ibsen DENMARK like Sweden has known poliomyelitis for quite a long time. We have had epidemics for as long as epidemic polio has been an record. The general trend in our country as in other countries where epidemic polio has been established for decades has been bigger epidemics higher incidence of paralysis in the older age groups and a steadily increasing percentage of gravely-ill cases. The metropolitan area of Copenhagen has a population of about 1 200 000 people served by a single hospital for communicable diseases the Blegdam Hospital of 500 beds. During the last five months of 1952 we received about 3 000 patients with the diagnosis of poliomyelitis roughly onethird with paralysis two-thirds without. This of course was quite unusual but still more unusual was the high incidence of respiratory insufficiency with or without impairment of swallowing. Almost one-third of the paralysed patients belonged to this group. At times we had 70 patients requiring artificial respiration; around New Year we still had 50 to 60 requiring it. To-day there are between 25 and 30 left over from the 1952 epidemic still dependent an artificial respiration. The epidemic culminated about September 1. During the week August 28 to September 3 our hospital admitted 335 patients with polio or nearly 50 cases daily. And remember about one-tenth of these patients were suffocating or drowning in their own secretions. At our disposal we had one tank respirator (Emerson) and six cuirass respirators. This equipment naturally proved wholly insufficient when the epidemic got into its stride. We had to improvise; we had to find ways of avoiding the impossible situation of having to choose which patient to treat in the available respirators and which patient not to treat. Every single patient should have his chance and an equal chance of survival. ___MH

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