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The Death of a Disease

A History of the Eradication of Poliomyelitis

Edited by: Bernard Seytre and Mary Shaffer

In 1988, the World Health Organization launched a campaign for the global eradication of polio. Today, this goal is closer than ever. Fewer than 1,300 people were paralyzed from the disease in 2004, down from approximately 350,000 in 1988.

In The Death of a Disease, science writers Bernard Seytre and Mary Shaffer tell the dramatic story of this crippling virus that has evoked terror among parents and struck down healthy children for centuries. Beginning in ancient Egypt, the narrative explores the earliest stages of research, describes the wayward paths taken by a long line of scientists-each of whom made a vital contribution to understanding this enigmatic virus-and traces the development of the Salk and Sabin vaccines. The book also tracks the contemporary polio story, detailing the remaining obstacles as well as the medical, governmental, and international health efforts that are currently being focused on developing countries such as India, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Niger.

At a time when emerging diseases and the threat of bioterrorism are the focus of much media and public attention, this book tells the story of a crippling disease that is on the verge of disappearing. In the face of tremendous odds, the near-eradication of polio offers an inspiring story that is both encouraging and instructive to those at the center of the continued fight against communicable diseases.

Author Information

Bernard Seytre is the author and coauthor of several books written in French.

Mary Shaffer is a professional science writer. Both authors are based in Paris.


As we move towards the global eradication of polio, historical accounts of the program such as this become more important than ever. From the perspective of the World Health Organization, this book is invaluable as an easy-to-read historical account of the successful battle against polio.
— Dr. David L. Heymann, executive director of communicable diseases, World Health Organization

Audience: Professional and scholarly;