Lessons from a Century After the Flu Epidemic of 1918: How Conventional Medicine Killed Millions and How Homeopathic Medicines Saved Millions

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homeopathic flu remedies

Story at-a-glance

  • A remarkable 50 million were thought to have died as a result of the influenza epidemic of 1918, 100 years ago, but there is now a better explanation for why so many people died
  • Aspirin went off patent in 1917, allowing it to be available at cheap prices, and because its former patent owner, Bayer, had worldwide distribution of it, aspirin was available easily and cheaply
  • Medical associations and governments encouraged people to take aspirin or other fever-suppressing drugs for influenza, even though we today know that fever is an important defensive function in the body’s efforts to fight influenza
  • Leading medical journals of the day actually recommended using 25 aspirin a day to suppress the fever in patients suffering from influenza. Many of the people who died from influenza were found to have bleeding in the lungs, a strange symptom of the flu and a known side effect from aspirin overdose
  • Homeopathic physicians had remarkably good success in treating people during the 1918 influenza epidemic. Numerous recent studies published in medical journals have found that the homeopathic medicine, oscillococcinum, is effective in treating influenza


This is an older article that may not reflect Dr. Mercola’s current view on this topic. Use our search engine to find Dr. Mercola’s latest position on any health topic.

By Dana Ullman, MPH, CCH

Every fall and winter, the media begins pumping stories about why you should be afraid, even very afraid, of the flu. Since 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has asserted that between 12,000 and 56,000 people have died from influenza every year.

In actual fact, according to one of the most respected medical journals in the world, the annual death rate from influenza in the USA is closer to 1,000.1

When you realize that Big Pharma annually spends billions of dollars promoting their immensely profitable drugs on various television and radio news programs, it is no wonder that these news programs “give back” to Big Pharma by using the best marketing tool ever created: instilling “big fear” into people.

And the CDC’s cooperation with these outlandish statistics is simply evidence of the cozy relationship the CDC has with Big Pharma. Big Media inevitably reminds us about the famous flu epidemic of 1918 when supposedly 50 million people died from this ailment. Because this year, 2018, is the 100th anniversary of this major epidemic, Big Media is able to increase the fear factor to even higher levels. Whoopie!

However, you can predict that Big Media will not report accurately about influenza and its history because such history actually shows us that a very significant number of these deaths were not the result of the flu but due to the use of various fever-suppressing treatments, including aspirin, acetaminophen, quinine, arsenic, and even bloodletting. The “epidemic of influenza” should more accurately be deemed an “epidemic of fever-suppressing treatments.”

Understanding and Respecting Fever

It is widely recognized that fever is a vital defense of the body in its efforts to fight infection. A fever enables the body to increase its production of interferon, an important antiviral substance that is critical for fighting infection. Fever also increases white blood cell mobility and activity, which are instrumental factors in fighting infection.

Jane Brody, a longtime respected health columnist for The New York Times, reported back in 1982 on the healing benefits of fever. She noted, “a number of physicians, including pediatricians, are now suggesting that moderate fevers be allowed to run their course, for they may shorten the illness, potentiate the action of antibiotics and reduce the chances of spreading the infection to others.”2

Recognition that fever is beneficial has been known for more than 2,000 years, and historically, the healing benefits of fever are so substantial that many patients have actually been treated with ''fever therapy'' to aid their recovery from such ailments as cancer, tuberculosis and even mania.3,4

However, in the late 1800s, aspirin and its various compounds were shown to rapidly reduce fevers, and the medical view of fever changed dramatically. Drug companies have successfully convinced conventional physicians and the general public to become vigilant in bringing down fevers, even sometimes using such drastic measures as cold baths and alcohol rubs along with aspirin.

In reference to the flu and fever, the bottom line is that it makes little sense to aggressively suppress the body’s natural defenses against viral infection. There are, of course, some exceptions here.

For instance, it may make sense to seek medical care in those extremely rare instances when one’s fever is above 104 degrees Fahrenheit for over six hours or in any fever in an infant less than 4 months of age. However, as you will see, physicians in the early 20th century prescribed massive doses of fever-suppressing drugs to virtually everyone with a fever.

The Epidemic of Fever-Suppressing Drugs

Although doctors today claim to believe in “evolution,” they instead show no respect for it when treating people with various diseases. An integral part of evolution is that the human body defends itself from infection and/or stress in its best efforts to survive.

In fact, fever is one of the body’s vitally important defenses: During a fever, the body naturally secretes interferon (an antiviral chemical), increases the number and mobility of white blood cells so that they can help fight infections, and binds iron in cells so that microbes cannot feed on it. However, too many medical doctors today prescribe drugs that work directly against the body’s self-defensive efforts, including fevers.

The German company, Bayer, began marketing its new “miracle” drug, aspirin, in 1899. Aspirin was sold as a painkilling drug AND as a drug that lowers fever. And few people could argue with its successes. It clearly reduced certain types of pain, and it clearly reduced fever.

Although one might initially and naively think that it is a good idea to lower a fever, such actions inhibit the body’s efforts to defend itself against infection. Using aspirin or other fever-lowering drugs when a person has influenza is akin to having the person fight flu viruses with two hands tied behind one’s back.

As it turns out, Bayer’s patent on aspirin in the USA ran out in February 1917,5 thereby allowing any and every company to make aspirin at extremely low prices. These facts led to a confluence of events that created a “perfect storm” for overprescribing a cheap drug that was encouraged by medical organizations, medical journals, and various military and governmental agencies at a time when it was not known that aspirin and other fever-suppressing drugs had a seriously dark side to them.

JAMA actually recommended a dose of 1,000 mg every three hours(!), which is the equivalent of almost 25 standard 325-mg aspirin tablets in 24 hours. Such dosages are more than TWICE the daily dosage considered safe today and, in fact, today it is specifically not recommended to take aspirin when one has influenza at all, let alone 25 tablets per day!

Yet, in 1917-1918, the Surgeon General of the U.S. Navy also recommended aspirin as a symptomatic treatment for influenza, and as a partial result of this recommendation, the military bought huge quantities of aspirin in 1917 and 1918.

It is further shocking to note that, according to the famed Smithsonian magazine, some medical authorities at the time actually recommended extremely large doses of aspirin of up to 30 grams per day (equivalent to 250 aspirin tablets per day!).6

The Smoking Gun That Shows Aspirin Was an Important Cofactor in Massive Death Toll

Based on the War Department's most conservative count, influenza sickened 26 percent of the Army, which was more than 1 million men, and it killed almost 30,000 before they even got to France. The Navy recorded more than 106,000 hospital admissions for influenza and pneumonia out of 600,000 men (and these numbers do not count those people who experienced mild cases of the flu).7

Because the 1918 influenza epidemic was known to kill so many “young people,” it is not surprising that a particularly high percentage of those people killed were in the military who had too-easy access to the dangerous medical treatment of that day and age. Death from influenza usually inflicts infants and the elderly, but what was so unusual about the 1918 epidemic was how many young people between the ages of 18 and 40 died (the common age of people in the military).

A real “smoking gun” to the evidence that aspirin was an important cofactor in these deaths was the observation that many of these young people died of a type of pneumonia that included significant amounts of blood in the lungs, a condition that aspirin is known to cause (and this condition is rarely seen in young people with the flu).

One probable reason that there were considerably fewer deaths of infants and children during this influenza epidemic was that aspirin was NOT recommended for them in the leading pediatrics textbook of the day. Instead, hydrotherapy (water/bathing therapy) was recommended.

It was not just the Americans who overprescribed aspirin and other fever-reducing drugs to people with influenza. A historic 1920 report for the British Ministry of Health on the influenza pandemic recommended that the aspirin dose be 975 to 1,300 mg (3 or 4 tablets). No recommended frequency was given.8

Typically, these high doses of aspirin were repeated every hour, every other hour and every three hours. One London doctor bragged about treating his patient with 1,300 mg (4 tablets) hourly for 12 hours nonstop.

For the record, physicians in 1918 did not just recommend aspirin to lower fevers; they used a wide variety of drugs to do this. Whether or not aspirin was available, they used whatever drug they deemed would lower a fever.9 Commonly, doctors recommended quinine (usually recommending a highly dangerous amount of this drug: 1.3 grams every hour; today, it is not recommended to take more than 2 grams per day).10

Other doctors insisted upon prescribing arsenic and other metallic solutions; bloodletting was even recommended by one very prominent physician.

Despite the widely-known assertion that aspirin should not be prescribed for people with influenza (you can even ask Google about this, and they will confirm that it is NOT recommended), many doctors still prescribe it with abandon and, sadly, some naïve adults prescribe it for themselves or their children.

It is no wonder that so many people died in the influenza epidemic of 1918 — it wasn’t because of influenza that they died, it was because of the overuse of aspirin and other fever-suppressing drugs of the day. Sadly, until and unless doctors learn to respect fever as an important defense of the body and until they stop prescribing it for people with influenza, we may yet again experience massive numbers of deaths from this usually innocuous disease.

Safer, Homeopathic Treatment of Influenza

In 1916, Dr. W.A. Dewey, a homeopathic physician who was a professor at the University of Michigan, had been charged with compiling a list of the institutions that had a homeopathic school of medicine in the U.S.

He recorded 101 homeopathic institutions, including Boston University, University of Minnesota, University of Iowa, New York Homeopathic Medical College (which today is known simply as New York Medical College), Hahnemann Medical College and The Ohio State University, among others.

Then, in 1919, Dewey took on the task of evaluating deaths from influenza in these institutions. An institution was deemed to be “homeopathic” if the management of the hospital was a homeopathic physician, if its staff was homeopathic and if the clinical care was conducted only by homeopathic physicians.

These 101 institutions in 1918 represented 20,092 beds, or 110,000 inpatients. Or, if you include outpatient services, it amounted to 750,000 patients. Thirty physicians in Connecticut responded to Dewey’s request for data. They reported 6,602 cases with 55 deaths, which is less than 1 percent.

Dr. Frank Wieland, a Chicago homeopathic physician, reported that in a factory of 8,000 workers where homeopathic treatment was provided, only one death from influenza was reported. Wieland noted that the homeopathic medicine Gelsemium was practically the only remedy used.

Dewey was amazed to discover that the average death rate in these institutions was the very small percentage of 4.1 percent for the 110,000 patients, compared with 30 percent in a hospital managed and staffed by conventional physicians.11

Respected Homeopathic Doctors Had Success Treating the Flu

Dr. T. A. McCann was a respected homeopathic physician who interacted considerably with conventional physicians. In fact, he was one of the few homeopathic doctors to work with the nationwide Federation of State Medical Examining Boards, serving as vice president in 1914 to 1915. McCann is often quoted today as a result of his report on the impressive successes of homeopathic treatment during the flu epidemic of 1918.

In 1921 at the 77th annual convention of the American Institute of Homeopathy in Washington, D.C., he reported that 24,000 cases of flu treated in conventional medical hospitals had a mortality rate of 28.2 percent while 26,000 cases of flu treated in homeopathic hospitals had a mortality rate of 1.05 percent.12

The dean of medicine at Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia was Dr. W. A. Pearson, and he evaluated 26,795 cases of influenza treated by homeopathic physicians in its hospital with a mortality of only 1.05 percent.

Dr. H.A. Roberts, who later became the editor of a leading homeopathic journal, recorded his experience in treating soldiers during World War I. In the transporting of soldiers to Europe, he recorded 81 cases of influenza, where all recovered and none died. In comparison, it was common for ships to lose dozens of soldiers.

Dr. Royal Samuel Copeland (1868-1938) was appointed president of the New York Board of Health from 1918 to 1923. Copeland was a homeopathic physician and previously a professor of ophthalmology and otology (eyes and ear health). He is widely credited with helping to keep the public calm during this worldwide epidemic.

Further, four leading hospitals in New York City at the time were homeopathic hospitals, all of which had extremely low death rates during this epidemic. Copeland actually bragged that the results that these hospitals experienced during the influenza epidemic of 1918 showed the fewest deaths by percentage than any other city in the world.13

Copeland’s medical successes were so appreciated far and wide that he sought to become a senator from New York in 1922 and had Franklin D. Roosevelt serve as his campaign manager. He ended up being elected three times as a senator and became immortalized by being the author of one of the most important consumer rights legislation ever written: The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938.

This legislation empowered the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate drugs, and it gave formal federal recognition to the United States Homeopathic Pharmacopeia, thereby granting legal authority to homeopathy and homeopathic medicines. Copeland died three days after this legislation was signed into law.

Homeopathy Has a Track Record of Successfully Treating Many Infections

Homeopathy’s success in treating the notorious flu of 1918 was not surprising. The leading reason that homeopathy gained such popularity during the 19th century was in part due to its significant and obvious successes in treating the many infectious diseases of that era, including epidemics of scarlet fever, typhoid, yellow fever and cholera.14,15

Different popes in the Vatican granted the highest award they could grant a nonclergy person to three M.D./homeopaths who provided effective homeopathic treatment during cholera and typhoid epidemics in the 19th century.16

Bringing this historical experience up to date, three large modern studies have tested oscillococcinum, a popular homeopathic medicine from France in the treatment of the flu, and found this medicine to be clinically effective.17,18 One of these studies showed that 70 percent more people who took this homeopathic medicine were healed from the flu within 48 hours than those given a placebo.19

Even the famed medical journal, The Lancet, acknowledged the surprising efficacy of this medicine in the treatment of influenza.20 Of special interest is the fact that this homeopathic medicine, oscillococcinum, is made from the liver and heart of a duck.

Biologists and epidemiologists have acknowledged that ducks carry a wide variety of influenza viruses in their digestive tracts and, therefore, ducks are a vector in the spread of various types of flu viruses, including those that cause the “bird flu.”

It is interesting to note that ducks are known to infect humans and chickens, with virtually 100 percent of the chickens that get infected dying from influenza, and yet, ducks are immune to it.21 It seems that this immunity and the ability to fight influenza viruses are transferred in this homeopathic medicine.

The fact that homeopathic practitioners have used oscillococcinum since 1928 suggests that homeopaths have been more aware of this important vector in the spread of the flu. Further, homeopaths and homeopathic patients have been using this safe and effective medicine for almost a century.

Homeopathic Remedies for Influenza

Besides oscillococcinum, there are also various other homeopathic medicines that are used in treating people with the flu, though the effective use of these medicines requires individualization of treatment based on each person’s unique syndrome of symptoms. Some of the most common homeopathic medicines are:

Gelsemium (yellow jessamine)

Bryonia (wild hops)

Arsenicum album (arsenic trioxide)

Eupatorium perfoliatum (boneset)

Rhus toxicodendron (poison ivy)

Nux vomica (poison nut)

Belladonna (deadly nightshade)

Although some of the remedies are known toxic substances, the super-small doses used in homeopathy led FDA to deem them safe enough to be considered “over-the-counter” drugs, that is, they do not require a doctor’s prescription.

The super-small doses used in homeopathy make it appropriately deemed to be “the original nanomedicine.” The “nanodoses” used in homeopathy enable it to be extremely safe to use when utilized in the generally infrequent doses, and these nanodoses are much more able to penetrate cellular membranes and the blood-brain barrier than large and/or toxic doses of medicines.22

For details about how to determine which remedy to use, I recommend getting a homeopathic book, either such as those that I’ve written — “Everybody’s Guide to Homeopathic Medicines, Homeopathic Medicines for Children and Infants” — or that have been written by some of my respected colleagues: Shelley Keneipp’s “Parent’s Guide to Homeopathy” or Robert Ullman and Judyth Reichenberg Ullman’s “Homeopathic Self-Care” (no relationship to me).

The Questionably Effective Flu Vaccine

The CDC strongly advocates for the flu vaccine for virtually everyone, despite the well-known recognition that this vaccine is one of the least effective vaccines presently available. In fact, according to Scientific American, “Despite government recommendations, there is little evidence that flu vaccines help individuals older than 65 or younger than 2.”23

As for adults, a review of the best studies was published in one of the most respected medical journals in the world, and they determined that there was very little benefit given to adults.24 The review concluded:

“Injected influenza vaccines probably have a small protective effect against influenza and ILI (‘influenza-like’ illness), as 71 people would need to be vaccinated to avoid one influenza case, and 29 would need to be vaccinated to avoid one case of ILI. Vaccination may have little or no appreciable effect on hospitalizations or number of working days lost.”

Further, they also asserted, “We were uncertain of the protection provided to pregnant women against ILI and influenza by the inactivated influenza vaccine, or this was at least very limited.”

It should be noted that around 20 percent of the flu vaccines today are made with thimerosal (a mercury compound). Although the CDC and the FDA commonly insist that there is no “causational” link between mercury and autism, it is widely known and accepted that mercury is a neurotoxin and that it clearly is “associated” with various neurological symptoms and syndromes, including autism.25

Another Homeopathic Protocol

Many homeopaths recommend a much safer way to reduce the incidence of influenza. One protocol is to use Influenzinum 9C (some homeopathic companies create a new version of this medicine each year and include in it the three most common flu viruses, as determined by the Pasteur Institute, and that are commonly placed in a flu vaccine).

This homeopathic medicine is made in a much smaller dose than any vaccine, and it doesn’t include any “additives,” including mercury, aluminum or formaldehyde. As yet, no formal research has been conducted to evaluate the efficacy of this treatment, though even skeptics commonly recognize that such homeopathic medicines are basically safe.

Closing Thoughts

It has been estimated that 50 million people died during the “flu epidemic” of 1918, and this article presents a compelling case that a large number of these deaths were due to the use of substantial doses of aspirin and other fever-suppressing drugs.

When you consider that around 40 million people have died from AIDS in 40 years, the large death toll in one year alone (from October 1918 to October 1919) is literally devastating. It is time (finally) to acknowledge that the medical community played a large role in the deaths of these 50 million people. By acknowledging this painful fact, we can hopefully learn from it.

The bottom line is that people today should not be fearful of the simple flu but, rather, we should be fearful of going to doctors who overprescribe dangerous fever-suppressing drugs (let alone other dangerous drugs that show that they have no respect for the wisdom of the inner doctor in all of us).

Further, because aspirin is an over-the-counter drug that does not need a physician’s prescription, we can and should educate the masses to realize that suppressing the fever in people who have influenza is NOT recommended and, in fact, it can be very harmful.

We should also be fearful of physicians who do not take seriously those most famous words of Hippocrates (the “Father of Medicine”) who asserted, “First, do no harm.” In other words, people should explore and utilize various safer methods FIRST before resorting to more risky medical procedures.

This article also presents a compelling case for how homeopathic medicines have been used successfully in history and have been shown effective in clinical research. To learn more about homeopathy, see my previous articles:

Dana Ullman, MPH, CCH, is a certified homeopath who has written 10 books on homeopathy and four chapters in medical textbooks, and has published 40 books on homeopathy by his colleagues (copublished with North Atlantic Books). His most popular books includes “Everybody’s Guide to Homeopathic Medicines” (cowritten with Dr. Stephen Cummings) and “The Homeopathic Revolution: Why Famous People and Cultural Heroes Choose Homeopathy.”

He directs Homeopathic Educational Services, a leading homeopathic resource center to help people access homeopathic books, medicines, software and e-courses (www.homeopathic.com).

He has also created a special e-course on "Learning to Use a Homeopathic Medicine Kit," and maintains a homeopathic practice where he "sees" most of his patients via Skype, various video apps or the simple telephone.


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