Total Pageviews

Monday, May 11, 2009

Vaccines and the 1918 Spanish Flu

Tag words: anti-vaccine, aspirin and Spanish Flu, medicine and Spanish Flu, encephalitis lethargica, laudenum, chloroform and Spanish Flu, alcohol and Spanish Flu

Vaccines and the Spanish Flu of 1918


The media is overwhelming us with warnings that a flu epidemic like the one in 1918 could return. “We’re overdue for another epidemic.... The ‘big one’ is coming.... We need to be prepared with vaccines and drugs,” the experts are saying.

I became curious: What caused the influenza epidemic of 1918-1919, also called the Spanish flu? I logged onto the Internet and borrowed some books from the library to start my quest.

On the 'net, I was surprised to see quotes from people who lived through that period who blamed vaccines for the flu epidemic that swept the world at the end of World War I. Some of the comments were:

* “More soldiers were felled by vaccine shots than by enemy shots.”
* “The ones who were vaccinated died. If you didn’t get a shot, you were more likely to live.”
* In her book, The Poisoned Needle, Eleanor McBean claimed that “vaccinations caused the 1918 flu epidemic.” ( I)
* Lionel Dole railed against vaccines in his book, The Blood Poisoners.
* Homeopath Dr. Sandra Perko implicated vaccines in “the history of flu” section of her book, Homeopathic Treatment of Influenza. She writes, "Commenting on the high infection and mortality rate among the United States Army bases, Dr. Carey P. McCord in The Purple Death observed, 'It is of some importance that immediately prior to the onset of the epidemic, some thousands of these soldiers had just received typhoid vaccine.'” Perko claims that homeopathic doctors of the day saved their patients' lives by advising against vaccines and drugs. Instead, the homeopaths advocated rest, wholesome food and a few homeopathic remedies to pull their patients to safety.

Could these people be correct? Vaccines are supposed to protect people against illness. Our society accepts the presence of vaccines in our lives almost without question: just some chiropractors, homeopaths and a few anti-vaccine rebels protest that vaccines are harmful and should be discontinued.

After reading the arguments for both sides, I came to the conclusion that the mortality rate of the Spanish flu was increased by the overuse of vaccines and serums; dubious medical treatments like aspirin and quinine; harmful patent medicines that contained alcohol, mercury and opium; unsanitary conditions, malnourishment, poverty; and the disruption of war including poison gases and trench warfare.

                                                        * * *
Influenza has been with us since recorded time. The Italians called it “influenza di freddo” meaning “influence of the cold.” People don’t become immune to this regular winter visitor because the virus changes a small amount every year – called “virus drift.” Every so often, the virus changes more dramatically – called “virus shift.” This “shift” virus tends to produce the same symptoms but more severe and with a higher mortality.

Usually symptoms of flu are sore throat, coughing, muscle pain, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea. Pneumonia is the complicating factor that can kill those with weak immune systems: the elderly, children and those with other health problems.

In 1918, symptoms of the Spanish flu were so bizarre that many doctors insisted on using “influenza” in quotation marks. Patients might have a sudden collapse, a fever of 104 degrees F., a rosy rash across the chest, purple face, hands and feet, coughing and vomiting blood, and often death within hours or a couple of days. Some patients would go crazy or have a fit of rage just before dying. The number of deaths attributed to the Spanish flu range from 20 to 40 million around the world.

                                                         * * *
The first of three waves of infection for the 1918 flu started in the military camps of the United States. The U.S. was preparing to enter the First World War to help Britain and France fight Germany.

Vaccination of the troops in the U.S. became mandatory in 1911. All soldiers were inoculated – one Internet source claimed at least seven live pathogens were used – as the men gathered in training camps across the country. The vaccines available at that time were smallpox, rabies, anthrax, typhoid, plague, meningitis and yellow fever. Mercury, which is one of the most poisonous substances known, was used as part of the carrier liquid in vaccines. Mercury is toxic to the brain, gut, liver, bone marrow and kidneys. Even minute amounts can cause nerve damage. There is no acceptable level for humans.

The army camps were crowded and unhygenic. A large number of animals clustered close by: horses for riding, and pigs and chickens for food. Soldiers disposed of the huge amounts of wet dung by burning it, creating a yellow haze that irritated the eyes, nose and lungs. Pneumonia sometimes resulted. When a contagious flu-like illness broke out, makeshift hospitals soon filled to overflowing and many soldiers died.

Military recruits were then packed into troop ships for the long voyage to France, their first landing place. Crowded, unsanitary conditions could have helped to strengthen any “bugs” on board.

                                                        * * *

The second wave of the flu started after the American troops landed on French soil in March of 1918. A three-day-flu had been present in the earlier part of the war which started in 1914 but had been milder with a lower mortality rate.

After the arrival of the Americans, the length of the fever increased to about a week and the soldiers took longer to convalesce. There were more complications like pneumonia, and a higher death rate plus the strange symptoms of purple blotches starting on the face, hands and feet and gradually spreading to the rest of the body. Nurses would have to look at the soles of the feet to see if the patient was white or coloured.

This second wave of the flu spread throughout Europe, India and Africa killing millions.

Conditions in Europe were deplorable during the First World War, especially for the soldiers: mustard gas blinded them and induced respiratory problems; malnutrition was widespread; trenchfoot was common in soldiers who had to stand and sleep in muddy trenches.

The British soldiers were inoculated – as were the French and German soldiers. Most “Westernized” countries vaccinated their citizens, especially with the smallpox vaccine which was hotly opposed by those who saw it causing more illness and death than it prevented.

The third wave of the 1918 flu occurred in the fall of that year as soldiers returned home to North America, bringing a serious infectious illness with them. In the next four months, the United States suffered at least half a million deaths; Canada had about 59,000 casualties from the flu. The numbers are estimates because at first, flu was not a reportable disease; then during the epidemic, doctors and clerks were too involved with the uncontrollable disaster to keep accurate records.

Vaccines were thought to be the number one remedy for bringing the epidemic under control so the troops arriving back on American and Canadian soil were re-vaccinated. School inoculation programs were set up and the public was exhorted to submit to the needle for protection against the dreaded “Spanish Lady.” Vaccines and serums (clear liquid from the blood of sick or recovering patients) were also injected if a person got sick. As the epidemic continued to devastate the country, the American federal government allotted a million dollars for research. Most of this money was funnelled into vaccine production.

All these vaccines were made with pathogens other than viruses which were too small to be visible in the microscopes of the day. Researchers would have to wait for the invention of the electron microscope in the 1930s to be able to see the little bundles of viral DNA and RNA, many thousands of which could fit on the tip of a pin.

All the vaccines of 1918 contained mercurous chloride as part of the carrier liquid. We now know that mercury can cause immune, sensory, neurological, motor and behavioural dysfunction. Because vaccines were used for treatment as well as prevention, it’s possible people were accumulating a toxic load of mercury in their systems as well as all the pathogens.

A serum was developed from the blood of sick patients in an attempt to isolate the viruses the scientists suspected were there. The known pathogens were filtered out and the serum administered as a vaccine to try to prevent viral illness. Another serum was developed from recovering patients in the hopes that antibodies would help people to recover from whatever was causing this horrible flu.

                                                        * * *

The medical and folk cures for flu in the early 1900s may have weakened people rather than strengthening them. Consider these treatments:

* Aspirin was a new and popular remedy in the early 1900s. Critics now say aspirin’s only redeeming value is the suppression of pain – and that’s not always a good thing. Aspirin can damage the lining of the stomach, create a prolonged bleeding time, and cause wheezing and breathlessness. Alcohol, another popular remedy of the day, increases the side effects when taken with aspirin. Reye’s syndrome (severe liver disfunction, brain swelling, repeated vomiting and change in level of consciousness) has been connected to children taking aspirin in connection with a viral illness but it can affect adults as well. The combination of flu virus, aspirin and alcohol may well have contributed to the high mortality rate and to the development of encephalitis lethargica in some of the survivors of the Spanish flu.

Dr. Guy Beckly Stearns, a homeopath in New York at the time of the 1918 flu, wrote: "Aspirin and the other coal tar products are condemned as causing great numbers of unnecessary deaths. The omnipresent aspirin is the most pernicious drug of all. It beguiles by its quick action of relief of pain, a relief which is but meretricious. In several cases aspirin weakened the heart, depressed the vital forces, increased the mortality in mild cases, and made convalescence slower. In all cases it masks the symptoms and renders immeasurably more difficult the selection of the curative remedy. Apparently aspirin bears no curative relation to any disease and it ought to be prohibited." (quoted from The Homeopathic Treatment of Influenza by Sandra J. Perko, Ph.D., C.C.N.)

* Laudenum – alcohol mixed with opium and sweetened with sugar – was a favourite remedy in the early 1900s. In use since the 1500s and very addictive, laudenum could create rages and hallucinations in its devotees. The opium content depressed the vitality of the body, creating a pale and frail appearance. Respiratory complications, low blood pressure, mental health problems, severe constipation, lung, liver, kidney and brain damage, loss of weight and frequent infections were common side effects.

* Chloroform was used in a number of cough medicines. It’s now known that it oxidizes to form phosgene, an extremely deadly chemical.

* Alcohol was a favoured cure. It was in short supply because the food stuffs and labour for its production were recruited for the war effort. Charging $2 to the client, doctors would write a prescription for eight ounces of alcohol which would be filled by the pharmacy.

* * *
Could the Spanish flu be related to birds or pigs? Scientists are claiming to discover genetic material that suggests the Spanish flu was an avian flu. But in Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It by Gina Kolata, we read that the Spanish flu may have had more connection with pigs than birds.

Kolata states that in the fall of 1918, pigs in the Midwest U.S. appeared to get some kind of flu: runny noses, muscle pain, fever, coughing – and many died of pneumonia. This swine flu seemed to pass easily between people and pigs. In the 1930s, scientists looking for the cause of the 1918 flu found antibodies to swine flu in people who had survived the epidemic but not in those born after 1920. This suggests that a swine flu could have been part of the cause of the Spanish flu.

                                                   * * *
I don’t think we need to fear a repeat of the 1918 Spanish flu because times have changed. We are no longer using the harmful vaccines and cures of that day – and sanitation, at least in the West, has greatly improved. In general, our nutrition level is better, although we Westerners are consuming alarming amounts of sugar, chemicals, and junk food.

I suspect that resurrecting the Spanish flu to scare us is part of a plan to soften the public to accept mass vaccinations and the use of pharmaceuticals to counteract the newly formed, media-made “epidemic.” I think it’s time for the medical profession to adhere to its motto, “First do no harm.”

Anna Olson is a freelance writer and editor living in Winnipeg, Manitoba
. She can be reached at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A very informative article. Thank you for sharing.