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J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 76:128 doi:10.1136/jnnp.2003.028548
  • Historical note

Poliomyelitis (Heine-Medin disease)

  1. J M S Pearce
  1. J M S Pearce, 304 Beverley Road, Anlaby, East Yorks HU10 7BG, UK; jmspearce@freenet.co.uk

      The recent death of FC Robbins1, Nobel laureate and pioneer worker who cultivated the poliomyelitis virus, prompts this note. Poliomyelitis pre-dates recorded history.2 Biblical descriptions of the lame and crippled lack sufficient detail for diagnosis. However, a funereal stele of the priest Ruma from the 19th Egyptian dynasty shows shortening and marked wasting of his right leg; he walks on his toes and uses a stick3; this has been attributed to poliomyelitis.4 Frequent 18th century epidemics allowed a British doctor, Michael Underwood, to describe poliomyelitis as an entity in 1789, referring to a “debility of the lower extremities in children”5 John Badham described an acute paralysis suggestive of poliomyelitis in four children in 1835.6

      Little more was written until Jacob von Heine published a 78 page monograph in 1840, which recognised poliomyelitis …