Polio is on the brink of joining a long list of historical illnesses. Jennifer Evans and Sara Read reveal five other gruesome ailments that struck fear but are thankfully no longer with us
Last week the Department for International Development made the welcome announcement that polio was going the way of diseases such as smallpox, and is on the verge of eradication as a result of a worldwide campaign. The campaign has achieved an incredible reduction in the number of people contracting the disease of 99 per cent by the end of the 20th century. While for many of us the only association we have with polio is the oral vaccine given on a sugar cube at school, the so-called iron lungs, or vacuum machines which inflated and deflated the lungs of sufferers while they recovered from the paralysis the disease wrought, are well within living memory. These machines saved thousands of lives and were in use from their development in 1928 until the 1970s. As with smallpox, this potential eradication is the result of a successful immunisation programme. In England, the battle against smallpox was pioneered by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu who had seen a procedure known as variolation, the transferring of matter from an active pustule into a nick in the skin of the recipient, being carried out with some success in Turkey. Here are some other illnesses that have happily become history.