QUESTION: I was wondering how long it took Dr. Jonas Salk to come up with the vaccine for the horrible polio epidemic? Did the other countries also have polio? I can think about that polio and how scared those parents were for their children. It makes me think how scared people are for their older parents.

ANSWER: I tell you what — reading up on that time in history made me cry, probably because it seems all too familiar right now.

Polio didn’t really start emerging in documented epidemic proportions in the United States until 1894. The College of Physicians of Philadelphia maintains the website historyofvaccines.org, which says that’s the year “The first major documented polio outbreak in the United States occurred in Rutland County, Vermont. Eighteen deaths and 132 cases of permanent paralysis were reported.”

I’ll come back to your question about the vaccine, but I want to explain the natural question that follows a statement about there not being epidemics of polio until the late 1800s. The thinking is that, before we started to become a more modern — think clean — society, children were likely exposed to the virus that causes the illness at very young ages. The disease was typically kinder to such children younger than 2, and they would develop lifelong immunity once they were exposed, thanks to their own immune systems and with help from their mother’s antibodies still circulating in their blood.

When we became a more sanitary society, people were exposed to the virus at older ages, when it tends to be much more devastating.

“During the epidemic in the northeastern United States in 1916, the role of asymptomatic persons in the spreading of infection was recorded by the Public Health Service. This epidemic caused widespread panic; over 27,000 persons were reported to have been paralyzed, with 6,000 deaths,” according to a 2012 article in the World Journal of Virology, which I found through the U.S. National Library of Medicine in the National Institutes of Health.

And how’s this for scary, from an April article at discovermagazine.com: “In the outbreak of 1916, health workers in New York City would physically remove children from their homes or playgrounds if they suspected they might be infected. Kids, who seemed to be targeted by the disease, were taken from their families and isolated in sanitariums.”

In 1952, there were 57,628 cases of polio in the United States, including more than 21,000 cases that to some degree paralyzed the people who became ill. A website operated by the University of Oxford Oxford Vaccine Group says, “Before a vaccine was introduced in the 1950s, epidemics would result in up to 7,760 cases of paralytic polio in the UK each year, with up to 750 deaths.” So, yes, other countries experienced outbreaks.

Those were rough years before a vaccine was developed, folks. Summer seemed to bring the virus with it, so you’d find parents keeping their children indoors, away from pools, playgrounds and birthday parties. I found an NPR article that described how movie theaters encouraged people to practice what we call “social distancing” today.

Salk became director of the Virus Research Laboratory at the University of Pittsburg School of Medicine in 1947, and he went to work researching a vaccine for polio. His vaccine was declared a success on April 12, 1955, (after rounds of testing) and a nationwide vaccination program began almost immediately.

Q: I haven’t seen this mentioned in the paper and thought it would be of interest to your readers. My brother passed away in November 2019, and I filed his taxes for that year. Last week, he received a stimulus check for $1,200. The check has his name, followed by “deceased” (DECD.) Upon researching online, I found that lots of other families have received checks for a deceased relative. I’d like to return it, but I want to make sure it goes to the right place. Can you please find out where and how to return these checks to the Treasury?

A: The IRS just issued guidance on this issue on Wednesday, because you’re right —your experience wasn’t an isolated incident.

The IRS said payments made to people who died before receiving the check must be returned to the IRS.

“Return the entire Payment unless the Payment was made to joint filers and one spouse had not died before receipt of the Payment, in which case, you only need to return the portion of the Payment made on account of the decedent. This amount will be $1,200 unless adjusted gross income exceeded $150,000,” information on the IRS website says.

If it’s a paper check, write “Void” in the endorsement section on the back of the check and mail it to: Austin Refund Inquiry Unit; 3651 S. Interregional Hwy 35; Mail Stop 6542; Austin, TX 78741.

Don’t staple, bend or paper clip the check, but do include a note explaining why it’s being returned.

If it was a paper check that has been cashed or the payment was made by direct deposit, you should submit a personal check or money order “immediately” to Austin Refund Inquiry Unit; 3651 S. Interregional Hwy 35; Mail Stop 6542; Austin, TX 78741.

“Write on the check/money order made payable to ‘U.S. Treasury’ and write 2020EIP, and the taxpayer identification number (social security number, or individual taxpayer identification number) of the recipient of the check,” information from the IRS says. “Include a brief explanation of the reason for returning the EIP.”

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