The Spanish Flu

Miscellaneous

May 02

The image above is from the hospital at Camp Funston, in Fort Riley, Kansas, or “ground zero” for America’s greatest pandemic. Go ahead and forget that “fact,” because you’re about to get one heck of an education.

What is Influenza

Commonly known as the flu, it is a viral infection of the respiratory system. It is seasonal, in that it vanishes in the summertime, but can return in the fall, though it is often a different bug that returns.

There can be three or four different versions of the flu circulating in a population during flu season, while at the same time two different cold bugs are on the attack.

Brings up an Interesting Point

It is possible to catch two, three, or even four flu viruses at the same time. And that will not protect you from catching a cold also.

I’ve spoken with physicians and a friend who is a pharmacist, and we’ve concluded something that might interest you. Have you ever had a cold (or flu) that just clings to you? It just hangs around seemingly forever.

After long discussions, and this is not “science,” but a theory, I’m convinced that these clinging illnesses are combinations of different bugs, which infect us one after the other.

I’ve concluded this because the immune system goes to work at the first sign of infection, and by the second infection, it’s working overtime. Toss in a cold bug, and you’ve pretty much run your immune system into the ground. Add another flu bug, and your prognosis is a cold or flu (often symptoms are very close to each other) that hangs on and hangs on.

Just a theory.

Origins of Influenza

It’s probably been around since the beginning of humankind, but we know of it only from early writings. Sure there are Biblical plagues, but scientists don’t use Biblical writings because there’s too much mythology and dogma mixed in.

The first reference we have is from The Father of Medicine, Hippocrates in 410 BC. He described a highly contagious disease that he thought came from northern Greece. Most papers we found didn’t include “he thought,” but I felt I should add that because determining the origin a virus is even difficult today, as I will soon demonstrate.

Our recent COVID-19 pandemic affects our respiratory system, but nobody has yet to call it influenza. However, we’re pretty sure it came from Wuhan, China. And yes, there are conspiracy theories everywhere, but science is quick to either debunk those, or dismiss them.

The second reference in history to this category of virus, gave us the term, influenza.

In 1357, during an outbreak of respiratory illness in Florence, Italy, it was given the name influenza di freddo. For you folks up on your Italian language, you know that freddo means cold. So it was the influence of the cold weather that they assumed brought on the epidemic. And even today we tell each other, “Oh, dress warm or you’ll catch a cold.” There is just a tiny bit of truth to that, in that cold weather does depress our immune systems, but in reality, you need to come into contact with the actual bug to catch a cold, flu, or COVID-19.

Here’s a bit of history you won’t find in the usual Google searches. In 1504, a fever sweeping through Italy was called influenza de febbre scarlattina, or “scarlet fever.” What we seem to forget is that to the pre-scientific mind, there were many influences that brought on contagion. And the word cold is not in the Italian description of scarlet fever, so what was the influence?

Pleiades

The stars. Early philosophers constantly looked to the stars and were guided by them. When the Pleiades were on the horizon, harvest time was just around the corner. The stars told us the seasons, the stars were our calendar, and since some noticed that influenza was seasonal, why not look to the stars? We know, however, only what has been written, but we can assume that before something is written down, the terminology (the word influenza) has been around for decades. In literature classes, this is called “oral tradition.”

The first time we see the term influenza in the English language is in The Gentleman’s Magazine, April of 1743: “Article from Rome informs us that a Sort of Plague has broke out there, which destroys Abundance of their People, and they call it the Influenza.”

I could not find an extant copy of that particular issue, however, I was able to dig up a copy of the index to many years of the publication, in which that issue is referenced.

Robert Whytt Scottish physician, 1714 – 1766, wrote about the epidemic of 1758. Johnston, is his book, Studies on Epidemic Influenza writes: “One other observation of his is worthy of note, which is : that frequent relapses occurred when patients were re-exposed too soon after the first infection and such relapses were much more severe than the original disease.” According to Johnston, Whytt was also the first to express the idea that the origin of epidemic disease is not due to the weather. It seemed to be appearing in other countries where the weather was completely different. [Ref]

We know today that the weather has nothing to do with influenza, but that it is seasonal. As mentioned in the opening sentences, influenza hits us in the fall, winter, and spring, then vanishes “almost like a miracle” in the summer. But hang onto your hats, boys and girls. Fall approacheth.

Wrong Again

I love Neil DeGrasse Tysons’s quotation:

I love it because it is wrong. As a student of epistemology (the study of how we know what we know), I’ve learned that we can accept something as truth until evidence to the contrary is uncovered, and then we establish a newer, more truthy truth. [Yes, folks, that word is now in the dictionary thanks to Stephen Colbert.]

Science, medicine, and even mathematics have all stumbled, tripped, and have fallen before the god of another, newer truth. For example, it wasn’t long ago that all the distances to the stars had to be recalculated because of an error in mathematics.

Medicine is both an art and a science based upon biology and chemistry, or as it is known by naturopaths and functional physicians, biochemistry, the chemistry of life. At the foundation of pathogenic medicine is bacteriology and virology. And recently we’ve learned something new in bacteriology, virology, and microbiology that is beginning to stand medicine on its head:

Our bodies are only 10% ours. We share our bodies with a microbiome consisting of bacteria, viruses, protists, archaea, and fungus. Archaea are single celled microorganisms that lack a nucleus, the so-called heart of a cell. They act differently from bacteria, the class that they were first named after, and reproduce asexually by three different methods. Protists do have nuclei, but they don’t have organelles, or “tiny organs.” Yeast is classified as a protist. [Those little guys are everywhere ]

Acknowledging this, what was once considered a bacterial infection is now being seen as a bacterial imbalance. However, because medicine is a slow moving beast, it will be a long time before targeted antibiotics are created and perhaps even longer before probiotics are recommended by all physicians.

Pfeiffer’s bacillus

In 1892, German bacteriologist Richard Pfeiffer isolated a small, rod-shaped bacterium from the noses of flu-infected patients. He dubbed it Bacillus influenzae (or Pfeiffer’s bacillus to his friends), and then went out drinking and carousing with colleagues, all convinced he’d found the source of influenza. The world of medicine had a new hero, and who could disagree? It had already been established that bacteria were pathogenic. And Pfeiffer, and another guy, had found this bacterium on every person suffering from influenza.

Just 12 short years later, the Influenza bacterium got a write up in, A Text-Book Upon the Pathogenic Bacteria for Students of Medicine and Physicians. You may click that link to see the chapter on influenza and you will notice that the author states, “It cannot be positively proven that this bacillus is the cause of influenza, but from the fact that the bacillus can be found only in cases of influenza, that its presence corresponds with the course of the disease in that it is present as long as the purulent secretions last, and then disappears, and that Pfeiffer was able to demonstrate its presence in all cases of uncomplicated influenza, his conclusion that the bacillus is specific is certainly justifiable.”

Much of what physicians during the Spanish Flu knew about pandemics had been learned in a previous one that took place 26 years earlier: the influenza epidemic of 1889 – 1892.

And it was in 1892 that Pfeifer and his buddy discovered the bacillus they felt was the cause. I mean, heck, it was found in every person sick with the flu. (Why do I repeat myself? Look down.)

Koch’s Postulates

Here I must introduce you to the science of etiology. Simply put, it’s the investigation of cause, or in medicine, the cause of an illness. Doctors had been practicing their art for centuries, but it wasn’t until Robert Koch, Nobel Laureate, published his 1878 work, Investigations Into the Etiology of Traumatic Infective Diseases that a set of postulates, or guidelines, were laid out for researchers to “prove” the cause of an illness, beyond a reasonable doubt.

Reading Koch’s work, this line immediately stuck out: “I have therefore come to the conclusion that bacteria do not occur in the blood, nor in the tissues of the healthy living body either of man or of the lower animals.”

Remember what I told you. The truth is the truth until we find new evidence and today we know Koch’s statement to be false. Humans are chock full of bacteria.

However, getting back to etiology, his first postulate was simple to find in his work:

“On the other hand, the following objections which have been raised against the assumption that bacteria are the cause of traumatic infective diseases seem to me to be well founded. In order to establish this assertion (that they are the cause of traumatic infective diseases) it would be absolutely necessary that the presence of bacteria in these diseases be proved without exception, and further that the conditions as regards their number and distribution be such as to afford a complete explanation of the symptoms.”

Robert Koch

Here they all are, from the Encyclopaedia Britannica:

  1. A specific microorganism is always associated with a given disease.
  2. The microorganism can be isolated from the diseased animal and grown in pure culture in the laboratory.
  3. The cultured microbe will cause disease when transferred to a healthy animal.
  4. The same type of microorganism can be isolated from the newly infected animal.

I’m going to assume that a researcher like Pfeiffer had heard of Koch and read his work, especially since it was first published in German, and Pfeiffer was also German. How rigorously he followed these principles, we do not know; we can refer only to the PDF file above: A Text-Book Upon the Pathogenic Bacteria for Students of Medicine and Physicians in which we read “his conclusion that the bacillus is specific is certainly justifiable.” Pfeiffer had accomplished just the first two steps listed above, which we kept repeating, but he did not reproduce influenza in a healthy animal. According to the book, all he did was show that he could kill an animal by injecting his bacillus.

Again, medicine is a very slow moving creature, an elephanthippopotamus, as my brother the surgeon calls it. And things take a while to catch on. You’ll see this again in excerpts from the book, Studies on Epidemic Influenza when the author points out that many of his colleagues who had had experience with the previous influenza epidemic did not carry with them all the lessons they were supposed to have learned.

Synchronistically enough, in 1898 there was another discovery, and that was the first virus. From [Discovery of the first virus, the tobacco mosaic virus: 1892 or 1898?] we get from the abstract:

“Two scientists contributed to the discovery of the first virus, Tobacco mosaic virus. Ivanoski reported in 1892 that extracts from infected leaves were still infectious after filtration through a Chamberland filter-candle. Bacteria are retained by such filters, a new world was discovered: filterable pathogens. However, Ivanovski probably did not grasp the full meaning of his discovery. Beijerinck, in 1898, was the first to call ‘virus’, the incitant of the tobacco mosaic. He showed that the incitant was able to migrate in an agar gel, therefore being an infectious soluble agent, or a ‘contagium vivum fluidum’ and definitively not a ‘contagium fixum’ as would be a bacteria. Ivanovski and Beijerinck brought unequal but decisive and complementary contributions to the discovery of viruses. Since then, discoveries made on Tobacco mosaic virus have stood out as milestones of virology history.”

It was a giant leap forward, but it would take 33 more years for another two separate, but synchronous and very fortuitous events: The discovery of influenzavirus A in pigs, by Dr Richard Shope, and the prototype electron microscope, by Ernst Ruska and Max Knoll.

Stick around. You’ll soon learn that the 1919 influenza virus was reconstructed in a CDC laboratory in 2005.

The Spanish Flu

The Spanish Flu pandemic was the deadliest in modern history killing 50 million across the globe. An estimated 675,000 Americans died, and because of the high rate of death among healthy, young adults ages 15 – 34, it killed more soldiers than had perished on the battlefields in France.  

It hit America in three waves. The first was spring of 1918. The second was fall of 1918. The third and final wave hit in the spring of 1919 and the virus vanished that following summer.

Interesting to note that the first wave hit the poor, and the second wave hit the rich (or much more well-off than the poor). [Ref]

Why the “Spanish Flu?”

In case you hadn’t heard, there was a war going on across the ocean. And during time of war, those nations killing each other suppress and censor information that can be used against them. Germany, France, Austria, all of them did not publish that they were suffering and dying from a bug. They published their victories only.

Spain, at that time, was neutral. They stayed out of the war and published reports of the influenza that swept over their country killing more than 260,000 of their people. [Ref]

Spain didn’t want to take responsibility for it. I found one article in which they blamed France. And then I found this in the NY Times.

It’s hard to read, so let me write it out: “Spain disclaimed the unwelcome guest. The people leaped at the conclusion that this new evil, like other evils of the war, must be traced to German origins.”

Where Did it Start

If you search the web for the actual place where it all started, you will find the experts in absolute disagreement, each offering up their research and reasoning.

There are American History professors who will tell you it began March 4, 1918 with a soldier by the name of Albert Gitchell who reported ill at his base near Fort Riley, Kansas. However, a March 14, 2009 article from the Lancet, reviewing a book entitled, Living with Enza: the Forgotten Story of Britain and the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918, by John Oxford, published the following.

“Honigsbaum singles out possible cases at Etaples, France, in 1917. Etaples was a major staging post for Allied troops, and there is some evidence that influenza became established there, months before the epidemic proper began.”

John Oxford

At the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information), we found a paper from 2004 concluding that the Spanish Flu began in the US, in Kansas.

Wrong, again, but the paper ends scarily prophetic: ” . . . unless WHO gets more resources and political leaders move aggressively on the diplomatic front, then a new pandemic really is all too inevitable.” [Ref]

We found this from the NY Times dated March 3, 1918:

Notice they call it “French fever.”

Today it is very possible to do practically all your research on the web, especially with the existence of Google Books and Archive.Org, but as a journalist I know that sometimes really great research requires “legwork.” I’ve driven thousands of miles to get interviews, not even mentioning trips to specific libraries such as are found in Medical Schools and Historical Centers.

Having said that, you can imagine my joy at discovering an investigator by the name of Andrew T Price-Smith. This guy did the legwork. He went to the National Archives of Austria (photo credit: By Gryffindor – Own work, CC BY 2.5) and painstakingly went through pages and pages to uncover a story nobody else had.

National Archives

In Price-Smith’s book Contagion and Chaos, they first point out that, “Disease has historically generated negative effects on various societies, ranging from economic and social destabilization to rampant stigmatization and inter-ethnic violence, prompting draconian reactions by the state against its own people to enforce order.”

When you add to that a war between nations coming from various parts of the globe to kill each other on a centralized location, those who survive death on the battle field, eventually return home bringing with them a contagion that could sweep their nation.

And that, in a nutshell, is the story of the Spanish Flu.

The Origin of the Spanish Flu

It started in the first quarter of 1917 in Austria. Where they got it from is unknown.

I’ll let Price-Smith tell you in his own words.

“The data suggest that the Austrians witnessed a previously unacknowledged regional epidemic of considerable influenza-induced mortality during the first and second quarters of 1917, significantly predating the viral waves that began in the spring of 1918 in the United States. This revelation suggests that a precursor epidemic, of unknown origins, apparently swept through Austria (and perhaps other regions of Central Europe) in the spring of 1917. This provides empirical evidence to reinforce John Oxford’s hypothesis that the virus may have emerged in sporadic epidemic form before 1918. What is apparent in the Viennese case is that the Austrian people did not experience the two increasingly lethal waves of pandemic influenza that swept the world in the spring and summer of 1918 but suffered a lingering pandemic. From an epidemiological viewpoint, the lack of exposure to these two waves in early 1918 may have inhibited the Austrian population’s development of any significant immunity to the final genetic variant of the pathogen, thereby increasing their vulnerability to the third wave.”

Please take note of three things: the waves, the lethality of the virus, and the vulnerability, because we will take these up at the end of this article, pointing out, as is our idiom, the unsettled battles between the experts on these very subjects.

One reason for the “waves,” according to Price-Smith is that once the virus attacks, it opens the victim up to “opportunist infections,” such as viral and bacterial pneumonia: pneumonia-induced mortality. A first wave weakens a people’s lungs, destroying their immune systems, augmenting pneumonia-induced mortality rates in a second and third wave.

Price-Smith points out that the initial waves fragmented Vienna and the Austro-Hungarian Empire that collapsed in “utter political disintegration,” while it was the third most deadly wave that was the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” The empire would never rise again from the ashes.

By the way, this is one history lesson that, if not learned, will be repeated.

Science Denying

Oftentimes, groups will deny science because it gets in the way of their political agenda. And more often than not, their political agenda has the foundation of a lust for money along with the usual lust for power. Business hates to lose money. In the middle of America’s latest pandemic (COVID-19), governors and business leaders are calling Americans back to work, having not learned that the second wave their decision could produce will destroy them, and us, completely.

And it wasn’t any different during the first, less deadly wave that hit America and especially New York the spring of 1918.

First, America was already at war, and business was already slowing down.

The military, because of a large group of people in a tight area, had already gotten used to quarantines and social distancing.

Anyone who’s ever been in the military knows that meningitis spreads quickly and social distancing rules go immediately into effect.

Businesses already suffering from the war suddenly found themselves losing even more business during the first wave (they did not know there would be more) of this epidemic, as various health departments proposed social distancing guidelines.

Even the Brooklyn Dodgers had gotten hit with the bug in March.

In April of 1918, the public declared war on the experts. The feeling was we were spending too much for all these health boards, that the health boards were overstepping their reach, creating rules that hindered business, and that they were all overpaid.

It was a battle against Tammany and Science.

For those of you who don’t know, Tammany Hall is a New York political organization whose members listed such famous names as Jimmy Walker, Big Tim Sullivan, Al Smith, and William Randolph Hearst, to name a few. In the news, they are often referred to as simply “Tammany.”

The April 17, 1918 edition of the New York Times published: “Is Tammany to get a few jobs at the expense of the public health?” In fact, it was Hylan, the Mayor of New York who led the attack . . . on science: “Yet bacteriology, for instance, seems to the engaging Hylanians a sort of sorcery, a forbidden art . . . .”

One of the doctors who headed up the Bureau of Child Hygiene is the famous Dr Sara Josephine Baker, who we’ve noted at our site as the Mother of Preventive Medicine, having saved over 82,000 lives, using just hygiene and education. Even she was under attack, by business interests, of course.

And quarantines due to the Spanish Flu pandemic had not even started yet, quarantines and social distancing that would really cause a great hurt to businesses, but prevent devastation to the population. Nobody, except a few health experts, expected an even deadlier second wave.

The NY Times article ends: “The Hylan administration cannot afford to attack the health of the city, to invite disease, to kill off babies, to put a bounty on death. That is what this assault upon the Health Department would bring about, if carried through. The Mayor must, as best he can, get out of a bad business, of which the wiser heads of Tammany are weary, which even Socialist Adlermen cannot stomach.” 

This battle between Business and the Experts came just as the first wave of the Spanish Flu was receding. Epidemiologists describe it today as a milder form of the Spanish Flu, but still it hurt business due to the guidelines laid out by the New York Health Department.

An even deadlier wave was about to hit as fall approached, resulting in a huge spike in deaths starting in August and not letting up until it peaked in October. Everywhere, even in remote parts of Alaska, pneumonia developed within two days, quickly followed by death.

Now this is interesting. Near the end of July, 1918, the NY Times reported that comprehensive programs of health conservation, initiated by President Wilson, hadn’t even gotten off the ground, and Dr S S Goldwater, on behalf of the War Service Committee, had filed a complaint. In other words, Washington was informed that they were inadequately prepared in controlling communicable diseases, and lacked the necessary lines of communication to report diagnoses, let alone treatment and prevention. Because we were at war, it was felt that back home these things must rigorously be adopted to keep the war machine running. This meant, “A comprehensive program for the hygiene of war industries to be prepared and put into effect. Among the matters for special attention should be adjustment of hours of labor to obtain maximum production without damage to the health of the workers.” Additionally, “Steps should be taken to provide for the national registration of deaths, births, and cases of preventable diseases. A program should be prepared for maintaining an adequate supply of properly trained sanitarians, physicians, and nurses, during the war.” [NY Times July 22, 1918]

The reason I find this interesting is that we’d experienced just a mild wave of the Spanish Flu that spring. There was no sign that it would return with a vengeance, but because experts saw the flaws and weaknesses of “the system,” they wanted to prepare for the worst while ensuring adequate support for the troops. No one suspected that in a month’s time, the worst pandemic to hit our shores would be upon them. But the thing is, they were preparing. And the very next day, Bern, Switzerland reported they were on lockdown.

In fact, just 11 days earlier it was reported that the Kaiser had caught the bug.

For some darn reason, it just wasn’t going away during the summer months in Europe. Gee, I wonder why.

WAR! There were 70 million troops from disparate nations all trying to kill each other while spreading the virus back and forth. That many people suddenly in a relatively small area . . . heck, they were fighting in shifts, why not share the bug in shifts?

The Second Wave

Here is the full article from the NY Times, dated August 14, 1918.

In summary, August 14, 1918, a Norwegian steamship arrived with ten more passengers severely ill. Four were taken ashore for treatment, but died. The cause of death was pneumonia. The doctor treating them said, that as far as he could determine, they exhibited no symptoms of the Spanish Influenza.

The first wave of the Spanish Flu had been relatively mild. But viruses mutate. With millions in Europe sharing this virus, mutations were simply a statistical possibility.

There were 200 passengers on that ship, and they were all carrying the virus. Four had died aboard ship and were buried at sea.

This was America’s introduction to the second, more deadly wave of the ramped up version of the Spanish Flu.  Except it cannot be completely blamed on this one steamship. Wounded soldiers were returning and they went to military hospitals. The Port Authority did not quarantine ships, as you will see later. The Spanish Flu came by all available routes.

The German army was nearly incapacitated by the virus, and French, British, Canadian, and Australian troops were suffering. American soldiers hadn’t been affected much by it yet, and “medical experts” said it was due to the fact that their conditions were strong enough to “throw the germs off.” Medical experts have been wrong before, but in this case they would soon discover that it was exactly the healthy ones who would die from this contagion. They even wrote off the rest of Europe’s population succumbing to the virus because of “having to live upon bad bread which poisoned all around the gums and undermined the public health.” Though they did quickly admit there was no doubt that it will come to the United States.

The next day, two physicians from public health offices, “were emphatic that there was not the slightest danger of an epidemic of Spanish Influenza in New York.” They admitted that it seemed to be more virulent than any other influenza, but that “it seldom attacks any but persons who are badly nourished.”

“You haven’t heard of our doughboys getting it, have you?” said Dr Copeland, adding, “You bet you haven’t, and you won’t.” [August 16 1918]

NY Times Aug 16, 1918

Other physicians at the hospital where the passengers aboard that steamship were treated were a bit more skeptical about the initial reports. They recognized the symptoms as exactly what Europe had been reporting. There was the quick onset of pneumonia and death to follow if not treated rigorously, always adding the usual, “and are doing as well as might be expected.” [NY Times, August 16 1918]

But again, the Department of Health was in the forefront telling reporters, “The public has no reason for alarm, through the protection afforded by our most efficient Quarantine station and the constant vigilance of the city’s health authorities, all the protection that sanitary science can give is assured. The very mildness of the disease, as reported in Europe, is in itself assurance against anxiety on this side of the water. Our troops in France, so far, have escaped the attack from this influenza, although some of those of Germany and a few, perhaps, of those of Britain and France, have suffered. This has been ascribed to the great resistance which well-fed, healthy individuals offer to the disease.” [NY Times, August 15, 1918]

The very next day, Dr Cofer, a health officer for the Port Authority, was asked if there would be quarantine. He replied, “I’m glad you asked,” and then went off listing those diseases that are quarantined when they come into the harbor, “Smallpox, leprosy, yellow fever, plague—that’s the correct term, rather than a specific kind of plague—typhus fever and cholera. Just let a ship stick her nose into this harbor with a case of any one of these diseases on board and she will find herself tied up in the stiffest kind of quarantine.”

“This country is at war,” he added, and wasn’t about to clog up the port for one minute longer than necessary because of something that can be reported to the Board of Health, “which is splendidly able and enthusiastically willing to take care of each case when or before it leaves the ship at its pier.” He ended his speech with, “There is not the slightest danger of an influenza epidemic breaking out in New York, and this port will not be quarantined against that disease.”

The fact that, yes, we were at war, didn’t seem to impress upon them that when the war was over, our boys might just bring that bug back home with them.

And thus would begin the third and final wave of the Spanish Flu in America.

How America Handled and Mishandled the Spanish Flu

Blessed with Archives.org, I’ve unearthed some fabulous material for this article.

First, as you all know, institutions are suffering dreadfully from COVID-19. Care homes, veterans homes, and prisons lack everything needed to protect the lives of those living there, those working there, and the local communities where some go home at night. It is a national embarrassment.

Did you know that Sing Sing didn’t lose one person to the Spanish Flu? There were 106 cases and 14 with pneumonia, all of them saved and you can read the article by clicking the thumbnail.

We can learn from the Spanish Flu that hygiene, wearing masks, and social distancing are of utter importance. A pandemic spreads if we don’t do the basics.

During the height of the Spanish Flu, California adopted a simple rule: When you are out in public, wear a mask.

An officer detaining a man disregarding the laws, though this is probably staged. Can you see the hint?

And it eventually caught on.

People everywhere were doing their part; even cats, apparently.
Even our boys in blue.

But then there were the skeptics. Some even felt that the bug wasn’t even contagious. Furthermore, in parts of the medical community, the terrain vs seed (body vs bug) debate was still going on, and it is still a valid debate. We’ve written about this in our article The Lost History of Medicine.

To those not practicing heroic medicine (and in that day, most medical doctors did just that) resistance was the key, and that was the focus of their practice: to build resistance.

To the common person, faced with statistics hitting them from all sides, it was predictable that some would believe that the bug wasn’t “as contagious” as the newspapers proclaimed, because many could “resist” catching it. [We will discuss this more, with examples further on.]

As far as statistics went back then, they were lousy. From a Shattuck Lecture entitled, “Epidemiology and Etiology of Influenza,” delivered July, 1920, by Allan J McLaughlin, MD, we find:

“At best our statistical data are far from ideal. We would prefer to have morbidity to mortality statistics, but they are so incomplete that they are practically useless.”

According to McLaughlin, statistics are everything.

“As a demonstration of what did happen and of what may be expected to happen again we need consider only the appalling disaster of 1918. . . Never in the history of influenza has such a death toll been exacted.”

Resistance — What Constitutes Health

We hear that it was the young and healthy who succumbed to the Spanish Flu, so can we toss out this resistance stuff?

Homeopathy, nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine, chiropractic, and modern conventional medicine all define health differently. Many people today care about their nutrition and get a physical/check-up from their doctors once a year. They are fit as a fiddle. Unless that fiddle has subluxation. A subluxation is a tiny misalignment in our vertebrae, which, to a chiropractor is the cause of illness. Resistance is defined by alignment.

To a Traditional Chinese Medicine physician, health is balanced chi.

Modern medicine refers to all the rest as hooey. They stick to the parameters of double blind randomized studies (RCTs) and one of our best loved papers at this site is: Studies Show (anything they want to) in which we go over how science works, but then really shine a light on how money and ideology influences outcome. And conventional medicine has a huge logical fallacy underpinning its care: that a synthesized drug can make you healthy. And one more thing. The “science” side of this equation, leaning on the RCT as the gold standard, very often will not perform them on healing agents brought to light by the “non regulars.” Science, like Justice, is supposed to be blind.

Yes, modern conventional medicine can relieve symptoms, some actually do cure things, but the side effects can be hazardous to your health. I always fall back on the Chinese saying, “He who lives by medicine lives poorly.”

To understand what worked and what didn’t work, we need statistics.

First I want to tell you about the page from JAMA, November 2, 1918 that I purchased.

In the Letters to the Editor section, a Dr Klein from Chicago wrote:

“In a number of cases of influenza and influenzal pneumonia, seen both in my private practice and at the Alexian Brothers’ Hospital, I have used a treatment from which my results have been most satisfactory.”

The moment he gets a patient, he gives them 10 – 20 cc of quinin hydrochlorid (quinine) intravenously. At the upper limit, that is 16 times the current dosage for the average sized person.

It’s amazing anyone survived at all, though because the drug came in a saline solution, at least the patient was being hydrated.

He, like others, notes that in the third stage of the flu, the patient turns blue, or cyanosis, and he says the cause is disturbances in the circulatory system.

Nope. The flu was a respiratory infection, leading to pneumonia, and with the lungs filling with fluids, the patient is not getting enough oxygen. Nothing to do with the circulation.

I bring this all up because quinine was a standard “cure” for the Spanish Flu, at least in conventional medicine. It has very slight anti-inflammatory properties, as well as slight antibacterial properties.

It was used a lot because it cures malarial fever. The reason it cured malaria, unbeknownst to the doctors during the pandemic, was because it killed the parasite causing the fever.

From New Zealand we found this article: The Intolerance of Quinine in Influenza-Pneumonia Patients, in which, because of the use of quinine during the Spanish Flu pandemic, the doctor decided to try the drug, concluding that he won’t be trying that again soon.

Before leaving this section, I would also like to note that bleeding was also used as a “cure” for the Spanish Flu.

We should also point out that this illness was particularly fatal to pregnant women, and anyone already suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis were “hurried off by influenza.” [Ref]

Pulmonary tuberculosis was also called “phthisis,” which was applied to a number of progressive diseases of the lungs, and physicians noted at that time that “influenza was followed by phithisis.” They also noted that previous attacks of influenza offered no protection, although later in this article I will show you some who disagree with that.

Hygiene and Social Distancing

We know this worked. The article above about Sing Sing shows that some got ill, but not all, and this bug had a 50% infection rate.

Let me explain how infection rate is determined.

You divide the number infected by the average population rate of “someplace.”

That “someplace” is the hard part, because you’re relying on a good count to begin with. If you’re using a county, a city, or a zip code, you have to have accurate figures. Then, as with calculating percentages, you take your answer and multiply it by 100.

COVID-19 has, thus far, a 21% infection rate. I say thus far because infection rate depends on three things: vaccination, immunity, and behavior. We don’t currently have a vaccination, nobody wants to go out and test if they are immune, and so it’s our behavior that will raise or lower that figure.

A treasure I discovered at Archives.Org is The Control of Epidemic Influenza in a Large Institution by Horatio C Wood MD (reprinted in the Medical Record Oct 25, 1919). It is delightfully colloquial, for its time, and was very thorough in recording how they kept the bug at bay.

He starts out:

“In these days of microscope and x-ray, one hardly dares to believe in the existence of things seen with the unaided eye ; but as the labors of the bacteriologist, pathologist, and chemist have so signally failed in promoting our knowledge of either the cause or treatment of epidemic influenza I have summoned courage to recount a purely clinical observation, the results of which seem at least suggestive of how this scourge may successfully be dealt with.”

Then he sums of the size of the task that was at hand by pointing out that at the University of Pennsylvania, they had probably the largest Students’ Army Training Corps in the Eastern United States, numbering 2,500 men.

The unit had barely begun training when the epidemic struck.

The first thing they did was establish emergency hospital buildings.

“On account of the ubiquity of the epidemic it was impossible to obtain for our hospital either nurses or servants. For nursing we relied entirely on medical students. As soon as the seriousness of the situation was realized the commanding officer of the corps stopped all teaching for the third and fourth year medical classes in order that the students might be free to aid in the fight. I must confess that I was astonished at both the skill and the devotion of these young men. Called to do work of which they had no practical knowledge, at considerable personal risk they gave themselves wholeheartedly and uncomplainingly to the duty before them. Not only did they carry out faithfully the orders of the physician, watching most carefully the progress of each patient, and reporting intelligently and promptly any alarming change, but, what surprised me especially, they showed both cheerfulness and carefulness in cleaning bedrooms, mopping floors, emptying bedpans, washing dishes, and performing similar important but uninteresting tasks.”

On quarantining:

“We believed that the most important single factor in the spread of the disease was the infected individual, and consequently the most important prophylactic measure was his immediate detection and isolation. It will not suffice in so highly contagious a disease to wait until the man is sick enough to report for treatment, as there may be an interval of twenty-four or forty-eight hours during which he can infect half a dozen roommates.”

Personal hygiene was important, but so was cleaning and sterilizing the rooms where those who were sent to the hospital had lived.

“The method of disinfecting these rooms was first to mop the walls and floor with a 1:1000 solution of corrosive sublimate ; spray the furniture, walls, bedding, etc., with a formaldehyde solution, in such quantity that approximately one pint for each thousand cubic feet of air space was used ; and close the room for twenty-four hours.”

I researched the chemicals they used and found that, yes, they would kill the virus, but it could take a few hours. Thus, closing off the room for twenty-four hours was smart.

It was pretty much the consensus that the flu was passed by “droplets” in most of the literature I found from that period, but they also believed that it was “hand-borne, from washing dishes in a common receptacle without boiling.”

Now if the virus has a lipid coating like most flu viruses (and COVID-19), just soap alone would help it to disintegrate, but then, only a few people actually called it a virus and knew nothing of its properties. But the good doctor did believe in wearing face masks and that people touch their faces too often. He also believed in indirect contagion, that one could get infected touching something that had been touched by an infected student.

Dr Wood’s Treatment Regimen

“Every patient received on admission a calomel purge and was placed on semiliquid diet during the febrile stage. He received from twenty to thirty grains of quinine and from twenty-five to forty grains of either strontium or phenyl salicylate daily. Very little other medicine was needed.”

Phenyl salicylate is one of the first salicylates, a form of aspirin. Phenyl salicylate relieved pain, lowered fever, and was mildly antibacterial.

As for Strontium salicylate, one would think it must be related to aspirin too, but here’s what the Journal of the American Medical Association has to say about it: “The salicylate of strontium has had a therapeutic reputation for which there is no satisfactory foundation discoverable. It has enjoyed a vogue that is largely due to the propaganda of manufacturers rather than to the writings of any experimenters or carefully observing clinicians. The literature on strontium is quite meager and not at all convincing.” [Ref]

We’ve already discussed Quinine so on to . . .

Calomel is something we’ve talked about in our pages on the History of Medicine. It is mercury. And it will kill you if you take too much. But for the longest time, medicine believed constipation to be an illness. It also believed that your disease always had something to do with your gut. So a calomel purge basically opened the gates of hell at both ends. I read a piece a long time ago, which was written an even longer time ago, that some doctors felt a calomel purge to be more effective than bleeding (but not quite as effective as a firing squad). [Here is a CDC factsheet on mercury.]

As you can now see from the medicines employed (above) the one thing they had that worked for them was aspirin. It reduced the pain and it reduced the fever, which in the case of Spanish Flu was deadly. Once again, it killed mostly the young and healthy who had healthy immune systems, by creating a “cytokine storm.” When cytokines are working to kill a bug, they produce a fever. And if they get out of hand, the fever becomes deadly.

But did you know that some of the victims of the Spanish Flu might have actually died from aspirin poisoning?

Aspirin comes from the bark of a bush, the key ingredient being salicylic acid. Ancient Egyptians used willow bark for pain relief, and even Hippocrates wrote that willow leaves and bark relieved pain and reduced fever. But it was at the company that would eventually grow into I G Farben where pure acetylsalicylic acid was first synthesized in 1899, and would become the world’s most commonly used drug.

Less than 20 years after its invention, doctors hadn’t yet agreed on the dosage, and they often prescribed way too much, believing that if a little works, then more should work better.

The article, In 1918 Pandemic, Another Possible Killer: Aspirin, Dr Karen M Starrko points out that, “high doses of aspirin, amounts considered unsafe today, were commonly used to treat the illness, and the symptoms of aspirin overdose may have been difficult to distinguish from those of the flu, especially among those who died soon after they became ill.”

An overdose causes respiratory alkalosis, a big name for your lungs filling up with fluids. And at that time, people were dying from fever and pneumonia. Pneumonia fills your lungs with fluid. Doctors at that time could not tell the difference between pneumonia or aspirin overdose, thus they were all written off as dying from the pneumonia, which was later changed to flu being the cause, because the health department realized that pneumonia was just one symptom of the flu.

The best figures I’ve been able to find on this is an estimate that up to 1 in 30 deaths from the Spanish Flu was caused by aspirin overdose, and when you think of the 675,000 deaths in America, that would come to 22,500.

We will have to get back to this in a bit. As you are probably aware, nothing is placed on the internet without being attacked.

Hindsight

It’s 20:20, don’t ya know. And the best time to figure out what went right and what went wrong is right after it’s over. This is why soldiers do debriefings after a battle. It also has something to do with why “we only get noticed when we screw up.”

The book, Studies in Epidemic Influenza, by James I Johnston, MD found at Archives.Org, is a treasure trove of information on the Spanish Flu because it was written in 1919 right after the pandemic.

I’ll let the good doctor speak now:

“The next great epidemic, and the last until the present, occurred in the years 1889 and 1892, and was pandemic in its nature. The death rate during this time was lower in the cities than in the country. This was probably due to the fact that the greatest mortality was among children and old people, and as old people were generally left in the country, this explains the observation. The highest number of deaths was among males, believed to be due to the exposure and fatigue of work. Forty per cent, of the world’s population was said to have been attacked during this period. The yearly or seasonal repetition, as shown in this pandemic, had occurred in other epidemics. In the great pandemic of 1889 and 1890, five decades after the last important epidemic, it was stated that the medical profession found itself confronted by a new disease of which it had knowledge through medical history, so also in our time few physicians recognized at first the reappearance of influenza. This 1889 epidemic is extensively reported in the literature, and has been elaborately worked out by many observers. One important feature has been emphasized by Leichtenstern, which, although recognized by the profession after the last epidemic had been fully reported and recorded, is not appreciated by the profession during the present epidemic—namely, that while shortly after the last epidemic there were smaller relightings of the infection throughout various parts of the country, those diseases which we erroneously call grippe or influenza, occurring commonly in the spring and fall, are in no way connected with the disease with which we are dealing, and which occurs at rather long intervals. Any speculation in regard to these periods, which history has shown to be fairly wide apart, has very little basis. This pandemic, like many of former days, is believed to have originated in Asia, and from there to have spread over Europe and hence over the world. The disease spread rapidly over countries, affected probably about 40 per cent, of the world’s population, disappeared rapidly after several weeks, was thought to have had nothing to do with weather conditions, had a great morbidity but small mortality, and affected all ages and occupations. There is no doubt, as stated by some, that the development of traffic and travel was a large factor in the rapid and extensive spread of influenza during this pandemic.”

pages 15 -16

Note that he starts out by putting the current pandemic into historical perspective. Again we are reminded about learning from history.

When he begins his look at the recent pandemic, he focuses in tightly on the problems that stood in the way of dealing with it.

He points out the obstacles to performing clinical studies during the pandemic, how doctors and nurses were overworked, and couldn’t keep proper records, or they were suddenly moved and there was no follow-up.

He also indicates that deaths due to the Spanish Flu were not recorded immediately. It was not made a “reportable” disease until October, about month after the epidemic re-appeared in its most virulent form.

And just like the news media today tells us, Dr Johnston says, “We were warned.”

In the city of Philadelphia on July 22 the Health Department issued its first health bulletin on so-called Spanish influenza, announcing the possible spread of this disease into the United States. On September 18 a warning was issued against an epidemic, the department starting a public campaign against coughing, sneezing and spitting. On September 21 the Bureau of Health made influenza a reportable disease. At this time the authorities stated an epidemic of influenza was recognized as existing among the civil population of similar type to that found in the naval stations and cantonments ; that a large percentage of cases was accompanied by pneumonia ; that patients should be isolated and attendants wear masks; that isolation be practiced for a period of ten days after recovery to prevent carriers ; that patients be guarded against relapse and that the public be cautioned against large assemblages and crowded places, as well as to avoid coughing, sneezing and spitting. On October 3 the churches, saloons and theatres were closed, funerals were made private and food handlers were required to protect their wares. The number of cases reported from September 23 to November 8 was 48,181, but the Bureau states, from a rough estimate, the number of cases was probably 150,000. The total number of deaths reported was 7,915 from influenza and 4,772 from pneumonia in all its forms, the presumption being that the deaths during this period were due to influenzal pneumonia. The weather condition during this time is recorded as mild and fair.

page 20

Remember that it was August 14th that the Norwegian steamship arrived with the influenza. By August 28th the city of Boston had fifty cases. In the next two weeks more than 2,000 cases were reported with a mortality rate of 60%. By November 9th, 4,372 would be dead.

Having peaked the week of October 26 in the East, Cleveland’s final tally by December: 22,703 cases, 3,330 dead.

The pandemic hit Chicago on September 21st, and peaked on October 17th hitting 2,395 deaths. It had started at the Great Lakes Naval Training station, 32 miles north of the city, 13 days before arriving in Chicago. On the same day it hit Chicago, Rockford, 92 miles northwest of there, also suffered an outbreak at Camp Grant.

Johnston then tells us that Epidemiologists, right after the pandemic, began gathering data and noticed numerous outbreaks of acute respiratory disease had been reported in Chicago the previous spring, which had occurred in large office buildings and industrial departments. And epidemiologists of that time were in disagreement if the epidemic had been there among them the entire time, the flare-up in the spring, not big enough to be called an “epidemic” then receding through the summer months.

And Now for the Controversy

We’re told “never argue politics or religion,” and I think we should add to that “health care modalities.” In his book, Confessions of a Medical Heretic, Dr Robert Mendelsohn examines the religion we call modern medicine.

We have given close scrutiny to conventional medicine at this site in our articles:

I enjoy going to “sciency” sites that debunk all the others, and most of all I enjoy debunking them because they ignore evidence that doesn’t jive with their ideology, fail to admit that money and ideology influence the results of studies, and are often guilty of the same faults that they hurl at others.

And once again, we must point out that modern conventional medicine has a virtual monopoly in our health care system.

From our article, “The History of Medicine — The Revolutionary War,” I give you this:

At the Constitutional Convention he told legislatures: “The Constitution of this Republic should make special provision for medical freedom. To restrict the art of healing to one class will constitute the Bastille of medical science. All such laws are un-American and despotic.” He went on to say: “Unless we put medical freedom into the constitution the time will come when medicine will organize into an undercover dictatorship and force people who wish doctors and treatment of their own choice to submit to only what the dictating outfit offers.”

https://wellnessjourneys.org/2019/08/17/history-of-medicine-the-revolutionary-war/

And that is where we’ve arrived today, and it is fair to say our system of medicine is profit based. Were it actually science based and healing based, it would not be the greatest cause of death in America (Healthcare for Dummies).

As I told you above, we’d return to the article claiming aspirin overdose added to the casualty count during the 1918 pandemic.

The physician interviewed, Dr Karen M Starrko, was one of the first people to write about the connection between aspirin use with Reye’s syndrome. A sciency site points out “that she did not have autopsy reports or other documents to support her conjecture.” [Ref] They also point out that patients of the pandemic were not given enough aspirin to be seriously toxic.

The problem here is that everyone has only flimsy accounts and medical records from that period, and when one’s lungs are already filling up with fluid, what dosage is then considered toxic? As for autopsy reports, how many died from mercury toxicity and prescribed bleeding? Medical coroners weren’t even looking at that back then. At this point, we must defer to the expert on the subject of aspirin, and agree with her that because of the huge dosages and little knowledge of aspirin toxicity, her theory is valid, though to what degree will be argued endlessly we can suppose. [Ref]

And Now Some Really Controversial Sh*t

Homeopaths killed fewer patients than conventional physicians.

This is a fact that cannot be denied. However the so-called science based medicine folks will tell you that homeopaths didn’t cure a single one.

From SCIENTIFIC FRAMEWORK OF HOMEOPATHY, Evidence Based Homeopathy,Revised edition after 69th LMHI Congress, July2014 (Paris, France) we get a different story.

  • Spanish influenza: “Perhaps the most recent use of homeopathy in a major epidemic was during the Influenza Pandemic of 1918. The Journal of the American Institute for Homeopathy, May, 1921, had a long article about the use of homeopathy in the flu epidemic. Dr. T A McCann, from Dayton, Ohio reported that 24,000 cases of flu treated allopathically had a mortality rate of 28.2 % while 26,000 cases of flu treated homeopathically had a mortality rate of 1.05 %. This last figure was supported by Dean W.A. Pearson of Philadelphia (Hahnemann College) who collected 26,795 cases of flu treated with homeopathy with the above result.” (Winston 2006)
  • Spanish influenza: “Homeopathy has been used with great degree of success in influenza and other epidemics for 200 years … In 1918 flu pandemic homeopaths reported around 1 % mortality in their cases, while conventional doctors were losing 30 % of their patients.”[www.lifemedical.us/flu]NB: The Spanish influenza virus we know now was an avian virus. Approximately 40 million people died in just 18 months.
  • Spanish influenza: “Dean W.A. Pearson of Philadelphia collected 26,795 cases of influenza treated by homeopathic physicians with a mortality of 1.05 %, while the average old school mortality was 30 %. Explanation: conventional treatment of folks with flu caused at least 8038 deaths while the homeopaths lost only 281 patients.That is a statistically significant difference.” “Thirty physicians in Connecticut responded to my request for data. They reported 6,602 cases with 55 deaths, which is less than 1 %. In the transport service (during WWI) I had 81 cases on the way over. All recovered and were landed. Every man received homeopathic treatment. One ship (using conventional therapy) lost 31 on the way. H.A. Roberts, MD, Derby, Connecticut.” [Explanation: a number of homeopathic physicians served in the Armed Forces during WW1 and made use of their homeopathic training. (Dearborn, 1923)447; (Dewey, 1921)
  • Spanish influenza: “The most severe epidemic of all time was the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918. Twenty percent of the entire world population was infected and 20-40 million people died. The epidemic was so devastating that the average lifespan in the United States was decreased by ten years. During this epidemic homeopathic medicines were used widely both for treatment and as prophylaxis. The average mortality under standard treatment ran from 2.5-10 %, while 1 % or fewer patients died under homeopathic treatment.” (Hoover, 2006)

The sciency folks respond to these reports simply, “They were self-reporting.”

Funny thing about the Spanish Influenza, everyone was self-reporting, even that physician (from the JAMA article) who continually gave his patients enough quinine to pop the blood vessels in their faces.

Yes, self-reporting can give us inaccurate counts. No doctor wants to admit they screwed up. You won’t find them talking about their screw-ups in their reports.

Science calls these reports anecdotal evidence, and sciency folks tend to write off immediately anecdotal evidence, while the rest of us need to be aware that anecdotal evidence starts to add up, and stimulates researchers eventually to perform RCTs. (RCTs do not magically appear from nowhere.)

So let us move on.

And then there was Chiropractic.

Chiropractors back then, if they opened their mouths and said, “Hey, can we try this?” were beaten and hauled off to jail.

We’ve come a long way since then (especially because of Supreme Court decisions) and even my VA has a chiropractor. Sure, it might take you 8 months to get in to see him (yes, ours is a male).

I know I’ve often bragged my chiropractor, Dr Brad Winter, up and down, so I’m gonna do it again.

I had a problem with my hand. I woke up one day and the last two fingers of my right hand could not be moved, even slightly, without horrendous pain. The VA gave me an appointment with a hand specialist and they put me on pain killers. It took seven years before it was back to normal. Then one day years later, again I awoke with the same damn problem, but this time I called Dr Brad for an emergency appointment. He aligned my spine, spent extra time on my neck (the location of the nerves running out to my fingers), then my shoulder, elbow, and finally wrist. The hand was back to normal in three days.

The foundation of chiropractic lies in subluxations, a slight misalignment of the vertebrae. These subluxations lead to many health problems, and an alignment can lead to better health and more efficient immune systems. And this is backed by science. As one paper I’ve found states it simply: “The interaction between nervous and immune systems has been studied for many years.”

That particular paper is quite relevant to both the pandemic of 1918 and our pandemic today, in that it found a correlation between both the nervous system and lung inflammation and immunity. [ QI Med 2014; 107:78′>-792 doi:10. 1093/qjmed/hcu005 Advance Access Publication, 18 January 2014]

I could jump right in here and give you a chiropractor’s self-report, but first you should know that I found it in many locations, but the most authoritative version of this report is found also at the NCBI site, and it was written up in 2018. It is entitled, The Chiropractic Vertebral Subluxation Part 4: New Perspectives and Theorists From 1916 to 1927. (This is an exceptionally good read.)

Not only does it contain the particular self-report I’d previously found, it gives light to facts, figures, and statistics gathered at the time to show the success of spinal adjustment during the pandemic.

During the influenza epidemic last year thousands of people suffering from this disease, as well as pneumonia, were cared for by Chiropractors. Many of the patients who received adjustments had been given up to die by their attending physician. They were not, therefore, what could be called favorable cases upon which to test out the merits or demerits of Chiropractic…But the fact remains that the majority owed their recovery to Chiropractic…Reports covering about thirty thousand cases were collected and statistics compiled thereupon showed that the mortality rate under spinal adjustment was almost insignificant, being less than one-eighth per cent.

And . . .

The published report of these remarkable results gave Chiropractic an impetus that could not have been equaled by fifty years of ordinary progress. It has shed an undying lustre on the profession. It has raised Chiropractic in the popular esteem to a degree impossible to estimate…

I’d like to introduce you to Dr James Drain who studied under B J Palmer, the father of chiropractic.

Dr James Drain

Drain was consummate student who expanded on Palmer’s theories through his clinical studies, and published quite a bit on the subject. When the pandemic began, he put his theories into practice and here are his results.

In the acute cases, I do not know of anything more acute than influenza or pneumonia. I kept a record of my cases up until I got sick myself and I submitted that record to the authorities down there, of attending 473 cases diagnosed by the health physician as Spanish influenza, or three-day fever. In the 473 cases not a single case developed pneumonia, and only three died.

Dr James Drain

Reckless and Irresponsible Behavior

One thing chiropractic today is not proud of is the unsafe behaviors of its followers during the pandemic.

B J Palmer had a publication called Fountain Head News. You can take a gander at it here: Fountain Head News.

Let us say, for argument’s sake, that chiropractic adjustments gave people perfect immunity to the Spanish Flu. Spreading misinformation about quarantines, social distancing, wearing masks, not spitting in public, or proper hygiene is irresponsible. Others are still susceptible, and people with a virus that they happen to be immune to, can still spread it to others. Ever heard of Typhoid Mary?

Here is how one of the asinine arguments put forth in that publication goes: Drug stores were only open for certain hours to buy drugs. One reader wrote (something to the effect of), “So if I go in there at that time to buy drugs, I won’t spread the virus. But if I go in there to buy a pack of smokes, I will.”

Go ahead and have your fun, laugh all you want, but in the end, lives are at stake, and health departments use experts to save lives by making a few demands on the citizens. Don’t be irresponsible.

Conventional Medicine

The rate if death is mathematically conceived. It depends upon data. And just like a computer, garbage in = garbage out.

The world wide overall death rate of the Spanish Flu is estimated between 1 and 2.25%.

Another “death rate” would be the number of dead among the number of infected, and that would be a huge guess since those numbers are simply estimates.

Calculating the death rate for individuals under the care of conventional physicians takes another WAG (a term used by scholars for Wild Ass Guess), and I’ve found numbers of 1 in 16, or 6.25%, 1 in 30, or 3.3%. Then there are the reports by homeopathic physicians (above) that put it at 1 in 3, or 28.2% and 30%, with one report that it ranged from 2.5 – 10% (above, again).

Dr Drain, our eminent chiropractor experienced a 1 in 158 death rate, or .63% and the homeopaths above had similar numbers of around 1%.

What we do know is that the only effective drug conventional medicine did have at the time was aspirin. We know that all of the treatments listed so far, other than aspirin, if not given in dangerous doses, did more harm than good, which would account for the high death rates.

But did you know there was a vaccine?

Paging through a slew of medical journals, I kept seeing this over and over and over:

Transactions of the Minnesota State Medical Association: Volume 38
Minnesota State Medical Association, January 1, 1918

As I progressed forward in that year, I suddenly started to find this:

And then I finally found this (the cure!):

I hope we all know that America has a long history of profiteers selling their quack nostrums, capitalizing on people suffering and hope. The Food and Drug Administration came along to put an end to that, but now they’re in bed with the pharma industry and we need a watchdog to oversee the watchdog. I’ve yet to see a Nexium commercial that warns it will increase your chances of kidney failure.

Now I’m not accusing Dr Sherman of being a quack. And after the following chuckles, we’ll get back to him.

Here is one ad from the days of the Spanish Flu I found online that cracked me up.

A mouthwash that killed the influenza bug . . . according to them.

To see some of the wild ads during that time, you must visit The Advertising of a Pandemic.

Some of you are old enough to remember back when Listerine advertised that gargling with their product could fight cold and flu germs. In November of 1971, the Federal Trade Commission went after them.

Finally, in 1977, after appealing the initial rulings, Listerine was ordered to correct their claims in future advertising.

Dr George Henry Sherman

Because I kept finding his ads everywhere, I just had to search for this guy. I quickly found three books on Google Books written by him:

  • Vaccine Therapy in General Practice
  • Twenty Years of Vaccine Therapy
  • Physician’s Manual of Vaccine Therapy

One thing I discovered right away was that he certainly showed up in a lot of court documents.

One of the court cases ruled that his label didn’t match the amounts of a particular ingredient and he was fined $100.00, or about $1,500.00 in today’s money.

He wound up in court over his vaccine too. The court documents included a paragraph from a journal, Michigan Medicine.

A few editors had questioned the ethics of allowing people to sell their products by writing editorials. The one Sherman wrote, as you can see from above was entitled: “The Questionable Etiology of the Present Epidemic.”

If you look back at his advertisement for Influenza Vaccine No. 38, you’ll see that it contains Influenza B (for bacillus), or as we also know it, Pfeiffer’s bacillus.

Every work I found from that era told us that this particular vaccine showed promise. That patients improved, felt better, ate better, etc, after receiving an injection, though they weren’t quite sure if it protected against the Spanish Flu.

Nobody actually performed a clinical, blind study (RCT). Reports were simply wishful thinking.

I found his vaccine at the Smithsonian Institute.

This is their write-up.

During the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 the best medical minds in the country were focused on the problem of discovering the cause of the flu and how to prevent it — and they failed. Sherman’s Vaccine was developed in response to the pandemic. Essentially it was a “stew” of numerous bacterial strains (“influenza-bacillus-pneumococcus-streptococcus-staphylococcus-micrococcus-catarrhalis vaccine”), including that of the “influenza bacillus,” which had been identified in the 1890’s as the probable cause of influenza. The bacillus resisted attempts to completely prove or disprove its essential role in the disease and so remained for a long time our “best guess.” The human influenza virus was not isolated until 1933; this sample of Sherman’s Vaccine dates to 1937.

National Museum of American History

Whether we think of him as a failure, a success, or a quack, is a judgement call I won’t make. We know he tried. And sadly, he died very shortly before the discovery of the flu virus and invention of the electron microscope. From the NY Times, April 21, 1932 we get his obituary.

More Controversy

We acknowledge that the first wave that hit the US was much less deadlier than the second and third waves.

Was it the same virus? And if they were different viruses, how closely were they related?

I found at one of my alma maters, the U of Minnesota, a paper that published two paradoxical theories about the Spanish Influenza.

First that there were two viruses, a not so lethal one and a very lethal one. To quote an article from the Lancet: “The three waves of infection are often assumed to share the same viral cause; however, little objective evidence supports this notion.”

The second theory was that the first virus built up antibodies in people who were immune to the second. This theory contradicts the first, in that, how could a different virus build immunity toward a virus that came later?

They start out from autopsy reports: “In studying lung specimens, the team found that the illness in US soldiers who died in the first wave, from May to August, looked the same clinically and pathologically as it did in soldiers who died during the second wave.”

Then they quote historian John M. Barry: “They say the spring wave protected against death but not against infection. That is not correct. We found up to 94% protection against illness—a somewhat higher level of protection against illness than against death.”

He admits that yes, there were three waves and each wave had different infection and mortality rates, and could have been from different viruses, “but we don’t know that. You can’t simply define it away and reject it as a precedent because it doesn’t fit your premise.”

COVID-19 hit our shores on January 21, 2020. Today, as I write this, is May 1st. As of 10 days ago, new research told scientists that there could already be 30 strains of the virus floating around. And to top that, one strain appeared to generate 270 times the viral load, meaning if you’re hit with it, you’re going to produce 270 times the viral load of someone being hit by the least potent strain.

Looking back at the arguments above, we should know by now that in a pandemic, the possibility of a variety of strains being spread about is very high, and possibly 100%. During the First World War, soldiers from everywhere were passing around a virus. They all brought it back to their homelands. The odds of mutations during that period were high. Thus the odds of the first wave being different from the second wave (or third) are quite high. It’s a good theory.

But how would one virus extend immunity to a different virus? Personally, I don’t understand the problem here. During the 1957 Asian Flu epidemic, doctors found people unaffected by the virus, and concluded that they had received protective antibodies earlier from a closely related strain. [Ref]

Obviously strains of the same virus can be dissimilar enough to exhibit different virulence, but close enough to produce antibodies in some to protect them from related strains. If someone out there has the research to counter this idea, I want to hear from you.

Learning From Our Past

Be Prepared

This was the one thing that popped up everywhere in our research. Over and over we were told to learn from past epidemics and be prepared for another.

In 2017, right after a new administration took over in Washington, Michael Osterholm and Mark Olshaker wrote an op ed for the NY Times entitled, The Real Threat to National Security: Deadly Disease.

Michael T. Osterholm is an epidemiologist and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. Mark Olshaker is a documentary filmmaker. They are the authors of “Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs.”

The article warns of budget cuts to the National Institutes of Health, the Agency for International Development, and the CDC, all of which prevent and respond to epidemics.

We were warned, we were not prepared because the people who would have protected us were not there to do their jobs.

Numbers — Report & Track

Again, another ubiquitous point all our research uncovered is that health departments and those on the front line need to know the numbers. It’s from the numbers that we know what is working and what is not working. If care homes are not reporting their cases, we don’t know to send them help. When a new disease comes along, we’ve got only old medicine to hit it with. The doctors and nurses on the front lines are doing everything to keep people alive, and even using out of the box thinking, such as getting patients to stand and stretch and fill their lungs. Both successes and failures must be written up and distributed.

Today we are much luckier than those back during the Spanish Flu. We’ve got computers communicating worldwide, sharing data. But that data has to be correct. We can’t let politicians control the flow of data that doctors need to save lives.

And testing! Testing is one way to track the illness, tell doctors what to expect and when, inform governors of the amount of medical supplies and equipment to request from the Feds. Testing also tells us the numbers to predict the future, because in a pandemic, the future is upon us very quickly, and hospitals will start to run out of beds, supplies, and equipment. The numbers tell us if we need to open temporary hospitals.

The numbers also tell us what we are doing right. And spreading those numbers helps to bring the numbers down.

Without accurate numbers we can’t perform the math: rate of infection, rate of death, just the basic reproduction number of the pathogen.

Listen to the Experts

And that goes for everyone in Washington DC. We employ experts for a reason, and during a pandemic they save lives. We do not employ incompetents; they seem to get elected.

Experts give expert advice. They don’t stand before the American public and recommend quack remedies or ask someone off to the side if it’s possible to consume a common disinfectant.

Their advice is simple. Proper hygiene (soap kills COVID-19), disinfect your homes, keep your distance, self-quarantine, and don’t do stupid things that get other people killed.

Do not listen to politicians who contradict the experts. Obviously their number one job is to protect their butts, not you.

I don’t know where the following photo is from, but to help people maintain social distancing while lined up for something (a bus or a cup of coffee at Starbucks), they’ve painted circles on the sidewalk. Take a look at the picture below and you’ll see (on the right) someone with less sense than a pigeon.

Supply & Demand

Keep the supply greater than the demand. This means one hell of a lot. It means being prepared. It means nationalizing businesses to make whatever is needed to fight this war. It means everyone chipping in and doing their part as previous generations did during the war. It means keeping supply lines and communication open. It means exactly what the National Emergencies Act of 1976 and the Stafford Act of 1988 both demand.

It does not mean confiscating necessary medical supplies and equipment by the federal government and then shipping everything to who knows where, it does not mean blaming others, and it most certainly doesn’t mean patting oneself on the back for the great job their doing. It means doing everything that is necessary to help the people on the front lines save lives.

Misinformation — Outlaw It, Punish It, Don’t Spread It

There’s the old saying, your first amendment rights do not allow you to scream fire in a crowded theater.

People die from misinformation. It is not only irresponsible to promulgate it, if someone dies, that is considered by the courts as a “wrongful death.” And if you continue to spread misinformation, that can be construed as Criminal Negligence. Keep yourself informed by listening to the experts. During an epidemic the CDC is the first place to turn.

My mother taught us the Thumper Law of Conversation: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin at all.

Well, I’ve got a new one for you, and we’ll call it the Responsible Law of Pandemic Conversation: If you can’t say something helpful and confirmed, shut the fuck up.

Why I Love Science

Sure I criticize science, but a scientist isn’t worth his salt if he isn’t critical about his art and about his own work in it. Like the journalist’s goal to seek truth, the scientist is on that same path but uses things that aren’t in most journalists’ vocabulary.

I love science. I read it, I watch documentaries, I study it so thoroughly that I even keep going after the book or documentary has lost me. Damn it’s fun.

And science and technology have taken leaps even since the start of this century (millennium?).

Let me ask you: How do you study a pandemic if you can’t study the actual pathogen, the actual virus?

The same way we have in this article: by the hard work of examining literature from that era.

But still, we don’t know the properties of that virus. We don’t know why it was so damn deadly? What did it actually do to its victims? How could it stimulate the human body to create antibodies?

Well, folks, scientists at the CDC reconstructed that virus. It’s a great story that you can read in its entirety here: The Deadliest Flu: The Complete Story of the Discovery and Reconstruction of the 1918 Pandemic Virus, or you can follow along as I tell you the highlights.

It all started in 1951 with a 25-year-old Swedish microbiologist and Ph.D. student at the University of Iowa by the name of Johan Hultin. He’d learned of little ocean-side village in Alaska called Brevig Mission. The pandemic of 1918 hit their village hard. There were only 80 adult inhabitants, and it claimed the lives of 72 of them.

The dead were buried in the permafrost. A task I cannot imagine having to pull off with simple tools.

Hultin obtained permission from the village elders to excavate the burial site. He went there, found what he needed, but because of the slow plane ride home with many stops, the viral material he arrived home with was dead. They couldn’t get it to grow in chicken eggs.

In 1997, because of advances in virology, Hultin once again was inspired to go back to Brevig Mission and this time get his samples back (by jet) to the lab before they died. He’s now 72 years old.

He found a woman’s body, perfectly preserved with a perfect set of lungs. He removed them and placed them in preserving fluid and shipped them directly to his colleagues. Ten days later Hultin got confirmation that the 1918 virus genetic material had been obtained from his sample.

Then the research of “sequencing genes” began. Keep in mind that all they had was genetic material, not the virus, and sequencing the genes would tell them all about how the virus operated — how it got in, how it would battle the immune system, all that good stuff, plus would discover its ancestors, which were swine.


Gene Sequencing

Here’s the best explanation I can think of to explain gene sequencing: imagine a book you’ve read, but between the words there are no spaces, no punctuation, and random letters thrown about. Finding the words within that mess is just like sequencing genes.


Back to the laboratory: Soon they were all writing and publishing some great papers, which stimulated still more research. The genetic material was shipped about the country and studied. One lab they sent it to was the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York where renowned microbiologists Dr Peter Palese and Dr Adolpho Garcia-Sastre would create “plasmids” from the genetic materials. Plasmids are small strands of DNA that can be replicated in a lab, and it was Dr Palese who had helped pioneer their use in reverse genetics to rebuild viable viruses.

With the entire genome of the virus sequenced, the CDC, under the direction of Dr Julie Gerberding, decided to rebuild the deadliest flu virus of the 20th century.

Not a very easy decision, but you can bet that every precaution possible was taken, and if the doctor in charge, Dr. Terrence Tumpey, should become infected, he would be placed in quarantine and denied contact with the outside world.

The work began in 2005, and for weeks colleagues, collaborators, friends, relatives texted him, “Hey, you got something yet?” Until one day, Tumpey sent out an email that simply said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Meet Dr Terrence Tumpy:

Since its reconstruction, scientists have been studying it, testing it, playing with it, but very carefully, I might add, to learn more about it. What they are discovering will help medicine handle pandemics in the future and hopefully produce future anti-viral drugs.

  • Marilyn Gambill Millman says:

    Fantastic read and well researched.

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