What then can cause Polio?
an extract from the book "Fear of the Invisible" by Janine Roberts
Robert Koch taught in the late 19th century that there was one causative germ per disease. His doctrine has ever since dominated much of virology.
But, in 1951 the vaccine scientists reported that to their surprise they could not find the designated poliovirus, a gut virus, in many polio victims! This should have stopped the vaccine trials dead. If the virus were not there, the vaccine would be useless. Even worse was to come. They found a different virus might be present, such as the Coxsackie, and speculated this also might cause polio. This news was grimly received. The Koch Postulates state that an agent could not be claimed to cause an illness if it is not present in all cases.
Salk and Sabin could not stomach the idea that they might have got the wrong cause. They were still wed to the idea that the cause had to be a virus - but if other viruses could cause polio, this was disastrous to their hopes of success with their vaccine. It meant that their vaccines would not give the protection promised against all forms of polio. AL Hoynel reported in the journal The Medical Clinics of North America that there was ‘some feeling of dismay ... [it] added one more problem to the nebulous conditions surrounding poliomyelitis... the more we learn about poliomyelitis, the less we know,' An editorial in the Lancet stated this discovery brought ‘a crop of new snags' to developing a vaccine. If other viruses were involved, the vaccines in development would at best diminish, not stop, the polio epidemics
But, from all that I have read, that the health authorities then promptly resolved this dilemma by forgetting about it, for I could find no trace of any subsequent attempts to develop vaccines for these other polio-causing viruses. It must have been hoped that no one would notice. This was indeed likely. At that time polio cases were diagnosed by clinical symptoms, as with other diseases. This meant in diagnosis the poliovirus was presumed to be present and not actually looked for.
With the other viruses seemingly obliterated from memory, from now on finding the poliovirus in the excrement of victims became essential to diagnosing polio, This diagnostic rule still applies and is on the World Health Organization's website. They demand that samples of two turds from each victim of infantile paralysis be sent to their laboratories. If no poliovirus is found in these, the cases are declared not to be polio, even if these children are suffering from the same severe paralysis symptoms and pain as found in the worst cases of polio during the American epidemics.
When I discovered this, I thought this was an insane way to prove the illness was caused by the poliovirus. They were excluding by fiat all cases where another virus is present! Also, surely the absence of the poliovirus in such cases suggests it might be misidentified as a major cause of this disease?
All this made me sit back and think. If the nominated viruses were not present in all polio cases - could the disease be caused by a toxin or environmental factor that worked with several viruses? I went back to reading the accounts of the doctors who treated the polio cases during the great epidemics, hoping that their research might shed some light on this.
I soon found that, outside the hothouse of virological research, there were doctors treating the casualties of the polio epidemics who had very different ideas about what caused polio, based on their observations during clinical diagnosis. I found they were inclined, from the evidence they observed, to blame the polio epidemics on toxins rather than on viruses.
The germ theory is so well established that I did not feel I had any right to reject it - but I now wondered if there might be a compromise? Even if one accepted that poliovirus had a major role in causing polio, could some other factor be needed to make this virus dangerous? Could an environmental factor affect the victims' immune systems,' making children susceptible to this virus? Might bacteria also be involved? Could toxins produced by bacteria or coming from other sources make the suspected viruses more virulent, and thus help create these epidemics?
I soon found that the doctors who blamed toxins had precedents to draw on. It is now mostly forgotten that environmental factors were frequently blamed for causing epidemics before the 20th century. Several epidemics were successfully brought to an end simply by the provision of clean water and better sanitation.
Most of us are thus unaware of the historical importance of the hunt for the poliovirus during the first half of the 20th Century. It was the decades-long ‘Manhattan' project of virology; the project that established this science in the pattern that it has followed until today. It set out to prove a virus caused a major disease and took forty years to do so. It effectively removed from consideration other possible causes of epidemics. It would make vaccine provision a prime responsibility of governments, given this priority in practice over the provision of good water supplies and adequate nutrition.
Before this it had been bacteria that featured in the ‘germ theory' of disease. A virus was then either Jenner's cowpox pus or a theoretical entity, a liquid containing invisibly small bacteria that might explain the spread of disease when no bacterial infective agent could be found.
But this ‘Manhattan project' was slow to bring results. It commenced in the 1890s and by 1950 little had been achieved. The most famed of the poliovirus experiments reveal, when read in detail, that sixty years of this hunt failed to isolate any virus proved to cause polio. What were being experimented with, and named as polioviruses, were fluids from cultures, filtered extracts from diseased tissues and even from the excrement of sick children. In other words, they were still working with toxic fluids they called viruses and it was these that they were testing to see if they caused polio.
Before the invention of the electron microscope, the identifying characteristics of a virus, according to published research, was to be invisibly present in finely filtered fluid taken from laboratory cell cultures, or sick humans. They were thus identified as ‘filterable agents.' It was presumed that invisibly small mini-bacteria had gone through the anti-bacteria filter - as the resulting fluid was still pathogenic. Their final defining feature was that these particles could ‘replicate'. This meant in practice that cells made ill with this noxious brew, seemed to produce more of this brew.
But we now know there are many things smaller than viruses that might pass through the same filter and still be potentially hazardous - such as DNA and RNA fragments, proteins, prions, enzymes - and chemical toxins. There was also the ‘alien' factor. Human material was being put into monkeys or other animals, and since this was alien to them, this might be what was poisoning them.
Scientists tried to exclude these possibilities by ‘passaging' samples of their culture from one animal to another to another, as in the monkey experiments described in another article on this site. They mostly picked monkeys, as these were most like to humans. They hoped the repeated ‘passaging' though monkey tissues would remove anything in their fluid that was not being reproduced, or ‘replicated.'
In the early stages of polio research they had no idea how their postulated viruses might be reproducing themselves. As the poisonous liquids seemed to be passed from one individual to another without losing virulence, they presumed these must contain dangerous mini-bacteria, able to divide and reproduce themselves.
It was not until the 1930s that electron microscopes made it possible to see tiny particles that might be the sought after viruses. These were apparently too simple in construction to be able to reproduce themselves, but since they were observed to be produced by cells and to be going into cells, it was postulated that the cells' massive reproductive chemistry must be ‘hijacked' by them in order to preserve their viral species.
These viruses were presumed nearly equal to bacterial cells in aggressive ability, but we now know that the genetic codes of viruses are vastly smaller than that of bacteria. The former averages around 500 million base pairs long, while that of a typical virus is around ten thousand long.
The scientists engaged on this hunt had to establish that these particles caused the illness in question. This in itself was a long and difficult process. According to Koch, they should be given to an animal, to see if they caused the same illness. Logically they should have been given to a human. This was rarely done. It was clearly unethical without informed consent.
To help in this work, they developed a technique called ‘plaque purification.' This involved diluting a filtered sample of the culture to the point when to dilute it further would stop a drop of the culture from killing some of the cells grown in laboratory cultures. But, to tell the truth I could see flaws in this process. What if many things could be present and contributing to the cells' deaths - as Koch himself said of septicaemia? What if something else than the designated virus was present and doing this damage? The cellular culture used could easily contain a multitude of things. We now know, for example, that SV40 was in it undetected.
What of toxins? Could they be present? What also of cellular waste products - could these pass on illnesses? Comparatively little scientific work seems to have been done to exclude this possibility. Also, could viruses be a natural product of poisoned cells? Again I could find little research on this possibility. But, I thought it was unlikely that toxins were involved, for how could toxins have caused the massive summertime polio plagues? Surely the cause had to be something infective?
I went back to the first medical reports on the polio outbreaks. They were from Vermont in New England and issued by the Government Inspector, Dr Charles Caverly. He noted the families affected did not know each other, so his report explicitly ruled out it being a ‘contagious' disease (much to my surprise). He also noted without comment that some parents told him their children fell ill after eating fruit.
His official report surprisingly stated that the outbreaks of infantile paralysis ‘usually occurred in [a single child from] families of more than one child, and as no efforts were made at isolation it was very certain it was non-contagious.' He thus concluded the paralytic outbreak was probably caused by a toxin, and not by a microorganism. Reading this, I wondered if the vaccine scientists had ever bothered to consult with him?
What toxin could it be? There was an outstanding candidate. Jim West had noted, on his well-documented website, that this report was dated 1892, just two years after lead arsenate pesticide started to be sprayed many times every summer to kill the codling moth on apple crops. Vermont was a major apple-growing region - and its polio epidemics started shortly after this pesticide came into widespread summer use.
It seems Caverly's report had rung alarm bells among other doctors than virologists. Some remembered that metal workers had suffered for centuries from a seemingly identical paralysis caused by the lead and arsenic in metals they were processing - the very same ‘heavy metals' that were sprayed up to 12 times a summer over apple orchards. The pesticide was made of neurotoxins that paralysed - for that was how they killed the moths. The toxins suffocate the moths by attacking the nerves that go to the muscles that enable them to breathe - the very same nerves that are damaged in humans in the worse cases of polio, that forced patients to use iron-lungs to breathe! Seemingly, no one seemed to have thought that what was done to insects might also affect humans.
The paralytic effect of these metals had been observed as far back as 1824, when the English scientist John Cooke observed: ‘The fumes of these metals, or the receptance of them in solution into the stomach, often cause paralysis.' The common name for this illness then was ‘palsy,' short for paralysis. This was an ancient disease - there is evidence that the ancient Egyptians suffered from it (see leg in picture) - but I do not know if there it were among their metal workers.
In 1878 Alfred Vulpian had experimentally established that lead damages the motor-neurone cells of dogs. This is the same damage that is found in children with infantile paralysis. Then in 1883 the Russian Popow discovered the same damage could be done with arsenic.
They had completed their research while Koch was developing the germ theory, but his focus was on epidemics. These heavy metal poisoning cases involved no general epidemic. They were only then among metal workers.
Perhaps if their work had been better known in the West, lead arsenate would never have been used as a pesticide? The spraying was in summer and autumn - so this would explain why polio epidemics struck in summer and autumn. It would also explain why the first of these epidemics occurred in orchard-rich New England - for that is where lead arsenate was widely introduced from 1892. It would also explain why some New England children went down immediately after eating fresh fruit. This was making much sense. None of these observations were explained by the poliovirus theory.
Lead arsenate was not the only new pesticide then coming into wide use. In 1907 calcium arsenate was introduced primarily for use on cotton crops and in cotton mills. A year later in a Massachusetts town with three cotton mills and apple orchards 69 children suddenly fell ill with infantile paralysis. This was apparently the world's second outbreak of epidemic polio.
Other cases were linked to milk supplies. At that time formaldehyde was added to milk to prolong its ‘shelf life.' This might also have been responsible for some cases of polio. In 1897 The Australian Medical Gazette reported that formaldehyde in milk had caused several cases of paralysis. Lead arsenate was also used in the cow dip.
The UK banned apple imports from the States because they were so heavily polluted with lead arsenate. Today many former US apple orchard sites are listed as heath hazards, on which no building can take place without the total removal of poisoned soil.
A toxic cause for polio would crucially explain why farmyard chickens and animals were reported as suffering paralysis at the same time as the children. This should not have happened, according to the virologists, for their poliovirus can only infect humans.
I had never before questioned if the poliovirus were responsible for polio. I had taken it as a given fact - so I was extremely surprised at finding this research. It was fascinating to find evidence that so challenged established theories. It stretched my mind, helped me think laterally. But I said to myself, none of this explained why a polio vaccine stopped the epidemics. Surely this by itself finally proves the poliovirus causes the illness, that the vaccine scientists, despite many blunders, had eventually got things right? If they had not - why were there now no polio epidemics?
The answer was none too clear to me. Again I thought, perhaps it was that the virus and the toxins were co-factors; that the toxins weakened the immune systems to allow the virus to attack?
I read how Dr. D. Bodian of Baltimore found in 1954 that injecting a ‘poliovirus sample' into the hearts of monkeys made half of them paralysed. But he had then found, if he injected them first with toxins or irritants, including penicillin or DPT vaccine, the number paralysed went up to 80 per cent and the paralysis frequently occurred in the limb injected!
This raised the issue for me of whether the DPT vaccine could also be a factor. I knew that UK doctors had observed paralysis occurring in some of the arms vaccinated. This vaccine was also introduced around the time of the polio epidemics.
Once I started on this line of inquiry, the evidence poured in like a flood. I learnt other pesticides could also cause paralysis. In the mid 1940s powerful neurotoxin pesticides were introduced, including the organochlorine DDT. A local polio epidemic in the UK town of Broadstairs, Kent, was linked to a dairy where the cows were washed down with DDT. It ended when the dairy was stopped from supplying milk. Apparently local doctors discovered this toxin link.
Albert Sabin, a major developer of polio vaccines, had earlier reported some crucial evidence, the significance of which he did not seem to fully appreciate. He discovered that poliomyelitis was the major cause of sickness and death among the American troops based in the Philippines at the end of the Second World War, while the neighbouring Philippines settlements were not affected. US military camps in the Philippines were sprayed daily with DDT to kill mosquitoes.
But stronger evidence came, to my surprise, from the great American national laboratories. The National Institutes of Health reported in 1944 that DDT damaged the same anterior horn cells that are damaged in infantile paralysis.
However these reports did not prevent DDT from making its way into shops to be sold as a common household pesticide - or from being advertised as ‘good for you.' DDT after the Second World War rapidly replaced lead arsenate as the pesticide of choice. By 1950 the number of cases of infantile paralysis had increased nearly threefold over those of 1930. On the right: an advertisement of the time.
Endocrinologist Dr Morton Biskind found in 1949 that DDT causes ‘lesions in the spinal cord resembling those in human polio.' In Germany in that same year, Daniel Dresden found acute DDT poisoning produced ‘degeneration in the central nervous system' seemingly identical to that found in severe cases of infantile paralysis. Both DDT and the new more powerful organochlorine pesticide DDE were found to penetrate the blood-brain barrier that protected the central nervous system.
Then two years later in 1951 the US Public Health Service reported: ‘DDT is a delayed-action poison. Due the fact that it accumulates in the body tissues, especially in females, the repeated inhalation or ingestion of DDT constitutes a distinct health hazard. The deleterious effects are manifested principally in the liver, spleen, kidneys and spinal cord.' Again, I noted that the spinal cord was where the damage was done that caused polio paralysis.
Dr. Biskind, a practitioner and medical researcher, also came to the conclusion that pesticides were the major cause of the polio epidemics. He presented the evidence to the US Congress, but the medical establishment ignored it. The germ theory of polio had captured its attention - and nearly all the available funding. He lamented: ‘Despite the fact that DDT is a highly lethal poison for all species of animals, the myth has become prevalent among the general population that it is safe for man in virtually any quantity. Not only is it used in households with reckless abandon so that sprays and aerosols are inhaled, the solutions are permitted to contaminate skin, bedding and other textiles.' Children's bedrooms were ‘protected' against the suspected poliovirus by having their walls covered with wallpaper pre-soaked in DDT.
His words made me stop and think. Surely it was mostly the middle-class households that used pesticide sprays with such abandon? Working-class households had less money to spray - and would instead have clouted flies with rolled up newspapers - or so I surmised. Could this be why the middle classes suffered from polio so much more?
They sprayed because they were terrified of the widely reported, but scientifically still undiscovered, poliovirus. Posters everywhere asked parents to stop the virus by keeping their kids clean. No medical help was available. They begged and begged the authorities to find a cure. Yet for decades the only advice the health authorities had for these distraught parents was to wash hands, disinfect doorknobs, keep the children clean, indoors and away from public swimming pools - all for fear of the unknown poliovirus.
These scary posters were distributed by the 1938-founded National Foundation for Infant Paralysis, and designed, not just to educate, but to motivate people to fund the hunt for the poliovirus - which in the 1950s consumed $200 million dollars raised in the ‘March of Dimes.' Other medical research was neglected
Many middle class parents went further to protect their children. They feared the invisible virus as if it were hunting their children. They turned their homes into sterile zones by constantly spraying insecticides and washing down the walls with disinfectants. Their fear became contagious and their zeal fanatic, encouraged by health authority posters showing giant flies attacking children. Parents literally hid their children from all strangers lest they might infect them.
Their excessive use of household pesticides made the argument that pesticides were to blame for these epidemics seem ever more plausible - but I still thought, if pesticides were involved, how then could the success of the polio vaccines be explained?
Biskind of course was doing his research before a vaccine was released and so was not affected by such doubts. He was not primarily a laboratory scientist but a doctor treating the victims of polio. He thought pesticides caused their illness so treated them as victims of poisoning. The first step in such a treatment is to remove the toxin from their food and environment. He did so and found many recovered, especially when contaminated milk products were also stopped. He tested butter purchased in New York and found high concentrations of DDT. The government ignored his important discovery, so he wrote in anger: ‘Although young animals are much more susceptible to the effects of DDT than adults, so far as the available literature is concerned, it does not appear that the effects of such concentrations on infants and children have even been considered.'
Other doctors reported success in treating polio patients with dimercaprol, an anti-toxin still used in hospitals to treat poisoning. In 1951 Dr Irwin Eskwith reported he thus cured a child with most severe form of polio, bulbar paralysis. I was surprised also to read that a Dr. F. R. Klenner had reported in the July 1949 issue of the Journal of Southern Medicine and Surgery that he had cured 17 acute cases of polio with large doses of another anti-toxin, ascorbic acid! He reported: "In the poliomyelitis epidemic in North Carolina in 1948, 60 cases of this disease came under our care. ... In 15 of these cases the diagnosis was confirmed by lumbar puncture. ... The treatment employed was vitamin C in massive doses every two to four hours. The initial dose was 1,000 to 2,000 mg, depending on age. ... Children up to four years received the injections intramuscularly ... All patients were clinically well after 72 hours.'
But this remarkable news left the government totally unmoved. This led to angry and extremely frustrated complaints. These medical professionals could not understand why government health officers would not question the viral theory of polio despite it providing no cures. Why was their work ignored, when they had solved the enigma and provided a cure? Yet public health officials stubbornly ignored their reports as ‘illogical and impossible.'
Nevertheless, Biskind in 1950 gained an invitation to present his evidence to a US Congressional Hearing. By now he was by no means alone. Dr. Ralph Scobey had found clear evidence of poisoning when analysing the blood of polio victims: ‘There are two abnormal findings in cases of poliomyelitis that point strongly to poisoning as the cause of this disease. One consists in the appearance of increased amounts of porphyrin in the urine; the other is the presence of increased amounts of guanidine in the blood. It is a well-known fact that porphyria can follow poisoning by a number of chemicals. Guanidine has been found in increased amounts in the blood in arsenic, chloroform, and carbon tetrachloride poisonings.'
I had not heard of this before. However, on checking, I found his work is by no means out-dated. Today it is established in toxicology that certain kinds of poisoning can be measured by analysing the amount of the chemical porphyrin in a patient's urine.
Dr. Scobey was invited to testify at Congress in 1951. That year also the US Public Health Service reported: `DDT is a delayed-action poison. Due to the fact that it accumulates in the body tissues, especially in females, the repeated inhalation or ingestion of DDT constitutes a distinct health hazard. The deleterious effects are manifested principally in the liver, spleen, kidneys and spinal cord... DDT is excreted in the milk of cows and of nursing mothers.' For a while it even seemed just about possible that Scobey and Biskind might succeed, and that the virus theory of polio would be abandoned.
But it seems the medical establishment was so wedded to the viral theory of polio that it was adamant that this theory could not be questioned. Instead some doctors subjected their ideas to ridicule. This made Biskind absolutely fume. He angrily reported, in a 1953 paper published in the American Journal of Digestive Diseases: ‘It was known by 1945 that DDT is stored in the body fat of mammals and appears in [their] milk... Yet, far from admitting a causal relationship [between DDT and polio] that is so obvious, which in any other field of biology would be instantly accepted, virtually the entire apparatus of communication, lay and scientific alike, has been devoted to denying, concealing, suppressing, distorting and attempts to convert into its opposite this overwhelming evidence. Libel, slander and economic boycott have not been overlooked in this campaign.'
but - if the vaccine stopped the epidemics - it surely must be a virus that causes polio? This was an enigma that I must investigate - read 'the Hidden Epidemic' here
CS Caverly; Yale Med J.; 1:1; 1894. I obtained this report from Mr Jim West, a researcher who maintained an extensive online library on the relationship between polio and pesticides - and on the West Nile Virus - at a website Images of Poliomyelitis. This is not currently online (April 2008) but his highly recommendable work can also be found at http://www.westonaprice.org/envtoxins/pesticides_polio.html
Cooke, John: Treatise of Nervous Diseases, 1824
Vulpian, A.: Quoted by R. W. Lovett, Ref below.
CS Caverly; Yale Med J.; 1:1; 1894. Also CK Mills; [Boston M & S J]; 108: 248-250; 15 March 1883
Australian Medical Gazette; 24 August 1897
Bodian D. (1934) .Amer. Jour. Hygiene. 60, 339.
Albert Sabin in The Journal of the American Medical Association. June 1948
I am grateful to Jim West's website, ‘Images of Poliomyelitis' for unearthing these posters.
D Dresden; Physiological Investigations into the Action Of DDT; GW Van Der Wiel & Co; Arnhem; 1949
MS Biskind and I Bieber; ‘DDT poisoning: a new syndrome with neuropsychiatric manifestations'; American Journal Of Psychotherapy; page 261; 1949
MS Biskind; Statement on clinical intoxication from DDT and other new insecticides, presented before United States House of Representatives to investigate the use of chemicals in food products; Journal Of Insurance Medicine; May, 1951
I.S. Eskwith; American Journal of Diseases of Children; 81: 684-686; May 1951
MS Biskind; Statement on clinical intoxication from DDT and other new insecticides, presented before United States House of Representatives to investigate the use of chemicals in food products; Journal Of Insurance Medicine; May, 1951
Dr Ralph R. Scobey The Poison Cause of Poliomyelitis Archives of Pediatrics, vol. 69, p172 (April 1952).
For example, from the Oxford Journal ‘Previous studies from this laboratory have described metal-specific changes in the urinary porphyrin excretion pattern (porphyrin profile) associated with prolonged exposure of animals and humans to low levels of mercury, arsenic, lead, and other metals (reviewed in Woods, 1995 http://toxsci.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/61/2/234
MS Biskind; ‘Public health aspects of the new insecticides'; American Journal of Digestive Diseases; 20: 330; 1953