Rockford’s Polio Epidemic of 1945
In August of 1945, the nation was celebrating the announcement of victory over Japan in World War II, but Rockford was not in the celebratory spirit. In fact, on August 14th of 1945, Rockford's city leaders declared a community emergency due to a polio epidemic.
In a four-month span in 1945, 382 polio patients were treated in Winnebago County. Of these, 36 died, 80 percent of them children.
Hysteria spread faster than the virus.
Planes flew over Rockford, dumping the insecticide DDT in a futile attempt to kill the polio "bug."
Posted proclamations warned parents to keep any children younger than 14 isolated and indoors through the summer. They were not allowed to play or swim because doctors believed physical exertion made them susceptible. Schools opened six weeks late that year.
Fevers and stiff muscles, especially in the neck and back, usually signaled the onset of polio. At that time, no one knew what caused polio, how to prevent it or how to cure it. They only knew young children were polio's primary target, with 70 percent of its victims younger than 11.
In fact, due to massive concern over the polio epidemic, a B-25 bomber was flown in to spray the "army's miracle insecticide, DDT," over the city of Rockford:
Rockford's polio epidemic of 1945 came to a close in late October. For more details, including the perspective of a nurse who cared for many of the afflicted children, check out the Rockford Register Star's excellent piece here.