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New Doubt Cast on True Cause of Deaths in 1918-19 Flu Pandemic

April 06, 2010 | 70,674 views


A researcher who authored one of the first articles connecting aspirin to Reye’s Syndrome, a lethal disease that attacks the liver and brain, is suggesting that aspirin also could be to blame for a significant portion of deaths in the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic.

In an article in Clinical Infectious Diseases, California internist Dr. Karen M. Starko talks about the high doses of aspirin that were used to treat fever and the aches and pains of the early 20th century flu.

The symptoms of aspirin overdoses, she says, may have been difficult to distinguish from those of the flu, especially among those who died shortly after they became ill.

This information is particularly relevant today, not only because CDC officials are pushing for people to get the H1N1 shot before they go on spring break, but also because they have now decided that H1N1 will be part of the seasonal flu shot scheduled for the 2010-11 flu season.

They also have expanded the flu shot schedule to include the elderly and infants 6 months of age and older.

No one will ever know whether aspirin therapy was actually a culprit in the deaths of the 1918 pandemic. But the history lesson is important, especially since the 1918 pandemic is being used as a benchmark to fuel flu fears today.

Even as world health officials sit with egg on their faces, pondering why the 2009 H1N1 swine flu proved not to be the pandemic they predicted, they still insist people get vaccinated, even though the flu season is mostly over. And in a sky-is-falling move, they’ve also decided to include H1N1 in the seasonal flu vaccines for 2010-2011.

I have already commented on the hyped-up H1N1 numbers that the US was reporting during the “height” of this non-pandemic. The lid was blown off by CBS investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson, who revealed that the vast majority of “swine flu” cases were not H1N1 at all -- but, rather, some sort of respiratory infection.

In other words, it was flu-like-symptoms -- not flu of ANY kind -- that was making people sick during the so-called H1n1 “pandemic.” The reason H1N1 numbers were so high was because the CDC had instructed health care officials to stop testing for H1N1, and just presume that everyone who showed up with flu-like symptoms was infected with H1N1.

It was a great game plan. Only it didn’t work because some health officials tested anyway, and found out the truth.

Finally, a few weeks ago in February, after months of waiting for the hundreds of thousands of H1N1 deaths that didn’t come, the World Health Organization admitted to Business Week magazine that "the overwhelming expression of [H1N1] was mild," and that they were going to use the pandemic-that-wasn’t as a learning tool.

Apparently, what they learned is that, like it or not, H1N1 is going to be part of your flu shot package from now on.

History, Big Pharma, and the Flu

Before I talk about what the new flu shot recommendations mean let’s go back to that 1918 flu, and look at how a pharmaceutical company may have contributed to countless deaths.

As Dr. Starko’s research shows, some doubts about the causes of the 1918 flu deaths that were raised at the time. At least one pathologist thought that the amount of lung damage seen during autopsies was too little to attribute to viral pneumonia (a complication of the flu), and that the large amounts of bloody, watery liquid in the lungs must have had some other cause.

Without autopsy reports or other documents, Dr. Starko cannot definitively prove that aspirin was that other cause, but aspirin overdose stands out because the symptoms of aspirin overdose are similar to what that turn-of-the-century pathologist observed, she writes.

It also fits historically. Back then, aspirin was a fairly new drug, and its maker, Bayer, was advertising it heavily. Since aspirin packages had no warnings on them, and came with little or no instructions on dosages. All people really knew was that they could take this drug and feel better quickly.

So at the time people were taking large doses of Bayer aspirin. As Dr. Starko notes, when the flu popped up in late 1917 in Europe, the US Surgeon General and the US Navy began recommending aspirin to help alleviate flu symptoms for soldiers. Then, as the flu moved to the US, civilians followed suit.

With encouragement from the respected Journal of the American Medical Association, people downed 1,000-milligram doses of the drug every three hours, which today is the equivalent of downing 25 standard 325 milligram tablets in a 24-hour period.

The recommendations for this aspirin flu therapy came from government and health officials just before the October 1918 flu death spike, Dr. Starko says.

This level of high aspirin dosage is now known to, in some cases, cause toxicity and build-up of fluid in the lungs, which Dr. Starko theorizes may have contributed to the incidence and severity of symptoms, bacterial infections, and mortality, back then.

History Repeating Itself?

Anyone who has a child probably already knows that you’re not supposed to give aspirin to sick children, because of the possible risk of Reyes Syndrome, a serious disease that can cause swelling in the liver and brain.

Reyes Syndrome most often affects children and teenagers, but it also can affect adults -- and when was the last time your health care provider told you not to give aspirin to your teenager, or not to take aspirin yourself when you are sick?

Since many people grab the aspirin bottle first when they’re not feeling up to par, it’s possible that more than a few people this past fall and winter did just that when they felt a cold or flu symptoms coming on.

It just makes me wonder if, like the 1918 flu, aspirin could have been partly to blame for all the “flu-like symptoms” reported to health officials during this past flu season?

Like the 1918 flu, it’s a question that we’ll never know the answer to. But it is a good reminder not to take aspirin for cold or flu symptoms.

Spring Break and Next Fall: Recycling the Leftovers

In the meantime, with flu season mostly over, and with plenty of unused H1N1 vaccine left on their shelves, the CDC has partnered with the American College Health Association to encourage students, faculty, and staff at colleges and universities to get vaccinated against the H1N1 flu virus for spring break.

Saying that the 2009 H1N1”pandemic” will continue for weeks, the CDC is urging the college crowd to get vaccinated right away.

At the same time the college letters came out, the CDC began predicting “a wave of flu activity” yet to come nationwide, and possibly even worldwide, even though the flu season is mostly over. On its website, it also warned that additional flu waves may come as late as May, with sporadic cases throughout the summer.

Anticipating that maybe this time the CDC and the WHO are correct -- that H1N1 will hang around to become a pandemic later -- the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) announced a provisional, updated recommendation regarding H1N1 vaccination on its website.

For the upcoming 2010-2011 flu season, the ACIP says, H1N1 will be part of a trivalent shot that includes two regular flu viruses, along with H1N1.

Another important change for the coming year is that no one older than 6 months is exempt from flu shots anymore -- the new rules state that everyone, including all children ages 6 months and up, as well as the elderly, should get flu shots from now on.

And watch out, senior citizens, because if you get this vaccine you’ll be getting a quadruple hit. Posted March 2, the ACIP says:

A higher dose formulation of an inactivated seasonal influenza vaccine (Fluzone High-Dose, manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur, licensed by FDA on December 23, 2009) for use in people age 65 years and older will be available in the 2010-11 influenza season.

Fluzone High-Dose contains four times the amount of influenza antigen compared to other inactivated seasonal influenza vaccines.

Fluzone High-Dose vaccine in one study of people age 65 years and older produced higher antibody levels, but slightly higher frequency of local reactions.

Studies are underway to assess the relative effectiveness of Fluzone High-Dose compared to standard dose inactivated influenza vaccine, but results from those studies will not be available before the 2010-11 influenza season.

I added the boldface type to the ACIP’s notice, to call attention to what our government health officials are recommending for senior citizens, some of whom may be in fragile health already: FOUR times the amount of antigen, of which the studies WILL NOT BE AVAILABLE before the vaccines are given.

This means that, once again, the public is being asked to be the guinea pig for a drug company’s final clinical trial.

One More Time, the Evidence Shows Flu Shots Don’t Work

Aside from the fact that a new Cochrane Systematic Review says that there is poor evidence that influenza vaccines work in the elderly, and that there is little or no evidence that they even work at all, a different study shows that flu vaccines don’t work in children either.

This study, published in the October 2008 issues of JAMA and JAMA’s Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, looked at children younger than age 5 who were seen in hospitals, emergency rooms or physicians’ offices during the 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 flu seasons.

It found that use of the influenza vaccine was NOT associated with preventing hospitalizations or reducing visits to their pediatricians. I commented on this study when it first came out. But in case you missed it, here’s what the study showed:

“Significant influenza vaccine effectiveness could not be demonstrated for any season, age or setting after adjusting for county, sex, insurance, chronic conditions recommended for influenza vaccination and timing of influenza.”

The authors speculated that vaccinated children in this study got the flu anyway, because the vaccines for those years did not contain the actual flu virus that was going around – something that can happen in any year, since world health officials and manufacturers have to guess ahead of time which flu might be the predominant one in an upcoming year.

And finally, for more proof that there’s no evidence that flu vaccines work, then why not hear it straight from the horse’s mouth – the vaccine manufacturers themselves. For example, here are excerpts from the actual package inserts of the four flu vaccines that the CDC and ACIP are recommending for this coming fall:

  • Fluzone High-Dose: There have been no controlled clinical studies demonstrating a decrease in influenza disease after vaccination with Fluzone High-Dose.
  • Agriflu: No controlled efficacy trials have been performed to indicate a decrease in influenza disease after vaccination with AGRIFLU.
  • Afluria: There have been no controlled clinical studies demonstrating a decrease in influenza disease after vaccination with AFLURIA.
  • Fluarix: Specific levels of hemagglutination-inhibition (HI) antibody titer post-vaccination with inactivated influenza virus vaccines have not been correlated with protection from influenza illness but the HI antibody titers have been used as a measure of vaccine activity.

While Fluarix’s wording is technical, it essentially is saying the same thing as the others: no clinical trials have been done to prove that these vaccines will keep you from getting the flu -- the only thing they have to go on is a measurement of antibodies to the specific flu virus in the blood of trial subjects.

And even then, it’s anybody’s guess whether the vaccine actually will protect you from the flu -- just like that children’s trial published in JAMA proved.

Compelling Evidence Not to Opt for the H1N1 Shot

If that’s not enough to make you wonder why the CDC continues to come out almost daily with more flu warnings, more flu advisories, and more flu shot recommendations, then consider this little tidbit that came out just a couple weeks ago:

According to Science Daily:

“New research from Tel Aviv University bacteria expert Prof. Eshel Ben-Jacob of the Raymond and Beverly Sackler School of Physics and Astronomy, grounded in the study of bacteria, presents compelling evidence to suggest there may be good reasons why most people should not automatically opt for the swine flu H1N1 shot.”

The scientists used the mannerisms of the bacteria themselves to explain why people should not be so eager to jump on a new vaccine bandwagon.

"The simple rule we learned from bacteria is that anybody who has to make an important decision -- especially one of life and death at times of stress -- should wait to see the trend of changes, process the risks and odds in depth, and only then decide," says Prof. Ben-Jacob.

Proof that Vitamin D is the Best Flu ‘Vaccine’ Around

I couldn’t have said it better myself. But I saved the best for last. For years now, I’ve been talking about how important vitamin D is to your overall good health, and how it can help you in warding off illnesses like the flu.

I’ve cited numerous studies supporting my stand on vitamin D, but this one, published March 10, 2010 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, is a new one that reinforces everything I’ve ever said about what vitamin D can do.

In this first-ever, rigorously designed, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial on the topic, researchers investigated the effect of Vitamin D3 supplements on the incidence of seasonal influenza A in schoolchildren.

The study is recent, done from December 2008 to March 2009. What these researchers found was astounding, but not surprising: that vitamin D3 supplementation during the winter may reduce the incidence of influenza A, especially in specific subgroups of schoolchildren.

It was particularly noticeable in children with a previous diagnosis of asthma, the researchers said. In the children taking the supplements, asthma attacks as a secondary outcome of the flu were one-sixth of what they were in children not taking the supplements.

I’m thrilled that, finally, a clinical trial proves what I’ve been saying all along -- that it’s a good idea to take a natural nutrient in the form of vitamin D to help you stay healthy. Do the benefit/risk equation yourself when you compare natural vitamin D supplementation with vaccines manufactured with destructive chemicals, preservatives and adjuvants.

I’m sure this is something that the flu vaccine makers aren’t going to like.

I’m also certain you’re not going to read about it on the CDC’s website, even though, as I wrote about in this previous article, they should have already noticed that a majority of children who died this season of H1N1 had diseases associated with vitamin D deficiency.

The good news is, the information is out there, and more and more health officials are beginning to take notice, including the Canadian government which, as I wrote about last year, is also studying vitamin D’s effect on the flu.

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