LONG PRAIRIE, Minn. - Polio was pronounced dead in the Western Hemisphere years ago, after one of the most successful public health campaigns in history. But now it is stealing through a tiny Amish community here in central Minnesota, spreading from an 8-month-old girl to four children on two neighboring farms.
So far, no one has been crippled by the disease; only 1 in 200 cases of polio results in paralysis. But worried public health officials say it may be only a matter of time.
Dr. Susan Rutten, a physician, makes house calls in four Amish communities in Central Minnesota.
The story of how polio came to this dairy farming community of 24 families, with 19th-century ways that include a deep-rooted suspicion of vaccination, is both a medical whodunit and a cautionary tale, suggesting that eradicating polio may prove far harder than anyone thought, even in the developed world.
No one expects that the United States will be visited by the kind of outbreaks that recently flared up in Africa and Asia, frustrating the longstanding goal of eliminating polio for good by the end of this year. But the Long Prairie cases highlight a weakness in the worldwide campaign.