Health See Inside Revealed: How Cold War Scientists Joined Forces to Conquer Polio While the superpowers were busy threatening to destroy each other with nuclear weapons, Albert B. Sabin turned to a surprising ally to test his new oral polio vaccine—a Soviet scientist By William Swanson RIA Novosti To many Americans, the cold war is ancient history. Yet only a few decades ago the planet was dangerously divided between West and East, and the antagonism between the U.S. and the Soviet Union defined global politics. Flare-ups such as the Korean “police action,” which killed millions of people in the early 1950s, and the Cuban missile crisis, 10 years later, drew the American and Soviet governments and their proxies to the threshold of nuclear war. At the same time, Americans lived in mortal fear of an enemy much closer to home. That enemy was polio—short for poliomyelitis, also known as infantile paralysis because of its prevalence among children and young adults. Scientists had known its cause—a virus spread via contact with fecal matter—since the 1930s, but its control eluded them. During sporadic epidemics authorities closed swimming pools, movie houses and other popular gathering spots, hoping to contain the disease, which attacked the central nervous system, often crippling and sometimes killing its victims. Newsreel footage of toddlers with twisted limbs and teenagers lying helplessly on their backs in coffinlike iron lungs frightened the public as few of the era’s images did. X "Revealed: How Cold War Scientists Joined Forces to Conquer Polio" is available in the following issues, please make a selection below Scientific American Volume 306, Issue 4 - $7.99 Add to Cart Polio: Pushed to the Brink - $9.99 Add to Cart This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now! Select an option below: Buy Digital Issue Customer Sign In *You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on nature.com. Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access. ADVERTISEMENT Scientific American is a trademark of Scientific American, Inc., used with permission © 2015 Scientific American, a Division of Nature America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.