From many thousands, down to three known Polio Iron Lungs

During the height of the polio epidemic in the United States, which occurred in the 1940s and 1950s, thousands of individuals afflicted with the disease required respiratory assistance, including the use of iron lungs. Iron lungs, also known as negative pressure ventilators, were large machines that helped individuals with paralyzed respiratory muscles to breathe by creating changes in air pressure around the chest.

At the peak of the polio epidemic in the United States, it’s estimated that there were thousands of iron lungs in use across the country. However, specific figures regarding the exact number of iron lungs in operation during this time period are difficult to ascertain due to the decentralized nature of healthcare and medical record-keeping at the time.

It’s important to note that the widespread adoption of the polio vaccine in the mid-20th century led to a significant decline in the number of polio cases and, consequently, a decreased need for iron lungs. As a result, the use of iron lungs gradually declined, and they are no longer commonly used today thanks to advancements in medical technology and the near-eradication of polio in most parts of the world.


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