Parents were terrified. A deadly virus was striking their children, and there was no vaccine, no cure.
But the worries were not today's concerns about Zika or other debilitating disease.
In the first half of the 20th century, the Bayou City - and the nation - feared polio.
The polio epidemic made 1943 to 1954 a frightening decade in the Houston area, but it also begot TIRR Memorial Hermann, a world-renowned rehabilitation hospital, as well as medical innovation, a spirit of community unity and a health museum that endures to this day. in the nation, and Harris County’s crisis was unmatched in the state. A polio epidemic swept through the Houston area every other year during those years, a regularity second only to Los Angeles County, Calif., according to "The Polio Years in Texas: Battling a Terrifying Unknown," a 2009 book written by Houston-area historian Heather Green Wooten.
Polio vaccine researchers and namesakes Dr. Jonas Salk and Dr. Albert Sabin consulted colleagues in Houston.
Jack Emmott knew a little about polio as a young boy and the terror that swept the community. A neighbor girl had been struck and was living at home.

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POLIO IN HOUSTON
1937: The beginning of "the polio years" in Texas when cases first emerge.
1940s-1950s: A polio epidemic sweeps through the Houston area every other year.
1950: The Southwestern Poliomyelitis Respiratory Center - the nation's first dedicated to caring for polio patients - opens at Houston's Jefferson Davis Hospital in cooperation with Baylor College of Medicine.
1952: The most devastating polio year in the nation; of 58,000 cases nationwide, 4,000 were in Texas, with more than 700 in Harris County.
1955: The introduction of the Salk vaccine, used for widespread children's inoculation campaigns.
1959: The Southwestern center evolves into the Texas Institute of Rehabilitation and Research, or TIRR. Today it is known as TIRR Memorial Hermann.
"I remember going to see her with Mother when I was 4," he said. "I was really glad I wasn't going to have polio or be in an iron lung like her."
Two years after visiting his friend, in August 1954, floodwaters likely carried the illness to Emmott. He was 6 years old.
"I'd run a fever for a few days, and over a period of one day, I gradually lost the use of my feet and my legs and my arms, and by the time the doctor paid the house call, I was paralyzed from the neck down," he said. "I remember it like it was yesterday."
He was taken to Hedgecroft Hospital in Houston in the Montrose area and spent first grade there.
Rocky McAshan was 5 years old in September 1951 when his family spent a weekend at Addicks Reservoir. That may have been where he was infected with the virus.
"I was feverish and was starting to have trouble moving my legs," said McAshan, now 70, of Houston, the last president of the now-defunct Texas Polio Survivors' Association.
He also went to Hedgecroft, and spent nine months in the hospital. He went to kindergarten there and returned home on crutches with leg braces.
In the 1960s, both boys underwent back surgery by Dr. Paul Harrington, an orthopedic surgeon at TIRR who invented the Harrington rod, a stainless steel implant that stabilized spinal curvatures and fought scoliosis.
"The benefits of Houston as a medical community meant that if I needed to go see a doctor, I could go see one and they would help me," said McAshan, an investment manager for decades who now uses a powered wheelchair.
Emmott, 67, a lawyer, said Houston responded in ways many communities could not.
"In Houston, we had all the resources to bring the best out of the worst," said Emmott, who uses a wheelchair for mobility. "We had the best medical facilities, and we had great doctors that helped us."
The epidemic was finally intercepted by the Salk vaccine, an injection first used in 1955 for widespread children's inoculation campaigns. The Sabin oral vaccine, which was often administered on sugar cubes, debuted in 1961 for commercial use.
Polio treatment made Houston an early leader in physical medicine and rehabilitation.
In 1950, the Southwestern Poliomyelitis Respiratory Center - the nation's first dedicated to caring for polio patients - opened at Jefferson Davis Hospital in cooperation with Baylor College of Medicine. Led by Dr. William Spencer, a pediatrician, the highly specialized medical team eventually handled about 10 percent of the nation's new polio cases, Wooten's book said.
The center was in place to face 1952, the most devastating year for the infection. There were 58,000 cases reported nationwide, including 4,000 in Texas and more than 700 in Harris County. The wave began around Memorial Day, peaked in July and abated by October. Fewer than 20 people locally, however, lost their lives that year.
Despite customs of the day that included an annual white patient with polio in ads for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (later known as the March of Dimes) and a separate "Negro Poster Child," Spencer insisted on treating black and white youngsters side by side.
Southwestern's admissions crossed the color line "in stark contrast to the policies of most medical institutions in Texas" and despite "the segregated world that was Houston in the early 1950s," Wooten wrote.
Spencer's work and the Southwestern center evolved into the Texas Institute of Rehabilitation and Research or TIRR in 1959. The center was known as The Institute of Rehabilitation and Research by 1978 and is now TIRR Memorial Hermann.
"The polio institute was a leader then and we are still a leader in having a team-based rehabilitation approach to taking care of our patients," said Dr. Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez, a physical medicine rehabilitation specialist and clinical co-director of the TIRR Memorial Hermann outpatient clinic.
The epidemic also left a mark on public health education in the Houston area. Local fundraising for "Victory Over Polio" campaigns organized by the Harris County Medical Society and the Rotary Club of Houston led to the city's first health education effort.
Leftover money plus a grant were used as seed money for a building on Hermann Drive that now houses medical society offices and the John P. McGovern Museum of Health and Medical Science, according to Dr. Kenneth L. Mattox, a former medical society president. As a medical student in the 1960s, he met Spencer and remembers iron lungs lined up in the parking lot of Jefferson Davis Hospital.
"Polio was a tremendous scourge on this country," said Mattox, now a distinguished service professor at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of staff and chief surgeon at Ben Taub Hospital. "You could almost say that what we learned during 'Victory Over Polio' also led to a confidence that when we wanted to do it for another disaster, such as hurricanes Katrina and Allison, we could do it."