Return of the Iron Lung

Contemporary Problems with Polio

In the last several decades, the United States has been largely free of poliomyelitis and has been able to manage the rare occurrences with existing machines. As a result, J.H. Emerson, Co., ceased production of their respirator in 1970, and Respironics Colorado discontinued repair, service, and parts on iron lungs as of March 2004.

According to a report from September 2004, there are an estimated 40 survivors of polio still living in the iron lung.28 Although the modern trachaeostomy tube and ventilation system replaces the iron lung and comparable respirators of the past, there is still some new demand for the device in emergency situations. Despite wide-scale vaccination efforts by the World Health Organization, recent outbreaks of poliomyelitis in Africa and South America have led health workers back to the iron lung as a possible life-saving technology for emergency cases of paralytic poliomyelitis.


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  2. Keith, 746-749.
  3. Keith, 746-748.
  4. Keith, Arthur. Three Hunterian lectures on the mechanism underlying the various methods of artificial respiration. The Lancet. March 20, 1909: 825-828.
  5. J.H. Emerson, Co. The Evolution of Iron Lungs: Respirators of the body-encasing type. Cambridge, MA. Supplement.
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  7. Drinker, Philip A. and Charles F. McKhann III. The Iron Lung: First Practical Means of Respiratory Support. JAMA. 255.11 (1986): 1478.
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  11. Gorham, 72.
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  13. Drinker/McKhann (1929), 1658.
  14. Gorham, 72.
  15. Drinker/McKhann (1986), 1478.
  16. Merriam Webster Online Dictionary, 2005. Accessed March 2005.
  17. Paul, John R. A History of Poliomyelitis. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971. Pgs. 2-3.
  18. National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. Facts and Figures About Infantile Paralysis. New York: The Foundation, 1946. Pgs. 6-7. Chart 1: Infantile Paralysis Cases Reported in the United States, 1915-1945 and Chart 2: Weekly Incidence of Infantile Paralysis in the United States, 1941-1945.
  19. Paul. 325.
  20. Paul. 325.
  21. Oral history. John Guerrant, M.D. Charlottesville, VA, March 2005.
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  23. Rogers, Naomi. Dirt and Disease. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press , 1992. Pgs. 96-105.
  24. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Accessed March 2005.
  25. Papers of the Albemarle County Medical Society. Manuscript collection in the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library Historical Collections. Sabin folder as of 4-6-05.
  26. Drinker/McKhann (1986), 1479-1480.
  27. Oral history. Audrey Snyder, RN. Charlottesville, VA, March 2005; Suzi Burns, RN. Charlottesville, VA, April 2005.
  28. Nelson, Roxanne. On Borrowed Time. AARP Bulletin. Sept. 2004: 20.