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Further commentary on Denmark's 1952–53 poliomyelitis epidemic, especially regarding mortality; with a correction

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Berthelsen and Cronqvist recently published an article in Acta Anaesthesiologica Scandinavica including aspects which could lead on to further discussion about the Danish 1952–53 poliomyelitis epidemic. This paper considers how Bjørn Ibsen's initial approach to treatment during the epidemic was successful, as well as how it could have failed; the roles played by ventilatory failure vs. gross neurologic destruction in causing deaths; and compilations from publications of statistics concerning mortality of the epidemic.

The Blegdam Hospital concept of ‘life-threatening poliomyelitis’ is revisited, along with its division into six anatomico-clinical categories for the 345 patients so classified. Attention is drawn to the severity of assorted cerebral lesions demonstrated in 114 of the 115 autopsies conducted from the 144 fatal cases. Despite an overall mortality rate of 41.6% among the entire epidemic's sickest patients, a lowest mortality rate of 11% in the last 18 of such patients is identified. Note is made of the difficulty in reconciling various sources for certain features – for which the 1956 book on the epidemic, edited by H.C.A. Lassen, has been freely used. Some folklore about aspects of management is mentioned.

In the light of other recent research by Dr Berthelsen an essential correction is needed in dating ‘Bjørn Ibsen's Day', amending 26 August 1952 to the 27th.

Keywords: Anaesthesia history; Bjørn Ibsen; Copenhagen; HCA Lassen; ICUs; Vivi Ebert; intensive care history; manual-IPPV; poliomyelitis epidemic

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Critical Care Medicine, Auckland City Hospital, Auckland, New Zealand

Publication date: November 1, 2004

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