Degenerative Diseases

May 25, 1955

Report Outline
Non-Infectious Illness in United States
Advances in Control of Major Diseases
Outlook for Conquest of Killer Diseases

Non-Infectious Illness in United States

Mass Inoculation of children with the new Salk vaccine—once the difficulties met at the outset have been resolved—promises to add poliomyelitis to the long list of dread diseases that have yielded to discoveries of medical research. Like smallpox, diphtheria, typhoid and other once-prevalent afflictions now virtually eradicated in the United States, polio is an infectious disease caused by an invasion of the body by a virulent organism. Such diseases have been overcome to a large extent by the development of serums or vaccines which, when introduced into the human system, stimulate the production of antibodies that stand ready to destroy an invader and prevent illness.

The victories over infectious diseases have been accompanied by a marked rise in the incidence of other diseases characterized by apparently spontaneous breakdowns of vital organs or by the malfunctioning of body processes. The increasing toll taken by heart disease and cancer are in part the inevitable outcome of the curing and prevention of infectious diseases, because many who in the past would have died of infections now live to suffer the breakdowns of middle and old age. But other factors, such as dietary habits, irritants in the atmosphere, smoking, emotional stress, and conditions consequent upon the elimination of infections also are being investigated as possible contributors to the increased prevalence of diseases classed as degenerative.

The success of “crash programs” of scientific research in speeding major discoveries—most dramatically demonstrated in the case of wartime atomic research—leads many persons to ask whether similar concentration on the study of specific diseases might not prove equally successful When the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis was organized in 1938, polio was a baffling disease; even the causative factor was undetermined. By early 1953, when the effectiveness of the Salk vaccine was indicated and mass testing was being planned, the Foundation had put $18 million into the search for a preventive.

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Infectious Diseases