Before a polio vaccine became available, several polio epidemics had occurred between 1948 and 1955. Many people avoided crowds and public gatherings, such as fairs, sports games and swimming pools, during this time due to concern about getting polio. Some parents wouldn’t let their children play with new friends and regularly checked them for symptoms.
At Saint Marys Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota, many people with polio were treated in the isolation ward. Some people with polio whose breathing muscles were paralyzed were placed in large machines called iron lungs. These machines helped them breathe and may have helped them live longer. The hospital was short of medical staff. Doctors, nurses and others worked long hours during the epidemics.