RTB presents a reprint of Janine Robert’s ground-breaking presentation of the story and data of the first great success of the modern pharmaceutical era: The Polio Vaccine. What is revealed beneath the gloss of press releases and public hagiography is story that leaves you wondering if anything the public health authorities tell us is actually, factually true – or if it is all in service of a kind of modern church of scientism.
You can read Janine Robert’s work at Fear of the Invisible.com and the Polio Myth. In her work, Roberts followed the trail blazed by researcher Jim West, who is a pioneer in detailing the hidden history of the US polio era and medical-scientific response. His website is Here.
Polio: The Virus and The Vaccine – Part 1
There is a rarely mentioned epidemic raging in the world today, one that is crippling children in more than 100 countries. In extreme cases the disease starts with a fever, which is followed by vomiting, delirium and spreading pain. Within days of being infected, the motor-neurone cells in victims’ spines cease to function properly. Pain intensifies as victims’ limbs are paralysed.
In the very worst cases, their chests are also paralysed, which prevents them from breathing. Even when the children recover, the illness often returns in later life. Health authorities say it has no cure. The number of cases increased by over 250 per cent worldwide between 1996 and 2003. It is a disease with a long history and many names. The condition’s official name now is ‘Acute Flaccid Paralysis’ but it was once known as ‘infantile paralysis’/ ‘poliomyelitis’ (polio for short). Some people called it ‘the crippler’.
A shot in the dark
Polio is a devastating disease; the preferred method for fighting it is vaccination. Yet there is a mass of historic evidence that suggests it is not caused by a virus but by industrial and agricultural pollution.
During the first half of the 20th century infantile paralysis surged like a bush fire, moving from place to place, afflicting large numbers of children, but only in the industrialised West. Prior to these outbreaks it affected very few and was often called ‘palsy’. In the 19th century scientists gave it the name ‘poliomyelitis’, referring to the inflammation of the grey nerves of the spinal column in cases of paralysis. Poisonous metals were suspected of causing this disease, particularly lead, arsenic and mercury. In 1824 the English scientist John Cooke stated: ‘The fumes of these metals, or the receptance of them in solution into the stomach, often cause paralysis.’
In 1878 the link between palsy and toxins was strengthened when Alfred Vulpian found that dogs dosed with lead suffered the same damage in their motor-neurone cells as found in the human victims of infantile paralysis. The Russian Popow discovered in 1883 that the same damage could be done with arsenic. This should have sent shockwaves through the medical establishment as the arsenic-based pesticide Paris Green had been widely used since 1870 to stop Codling moth caterpillars ruining apple crops. But strangely it didn’t.
In 1892 Paris Green was replaced in Massachusetts by the more toxic pesticide lead arsenate. Two years later the first recorded epidemic of infantile paralysis struck in Massachusetts’ neighbouring state of Vermont. The outbreak was investigated by Dr Charles Caverly, who reported that it was probably caused by a toxin rather than a micro-organism. Caverly said: ‘It usually occurred in families of more than one child, and as no efforts were made at isolation it was very certain it was non-contagious.’
Lead arsenate rapidly became the principal pesticide used on fruit and berries throughout the industrial world. In 1907 calcium arsenate was introduced for use primarily on cotton crops and in cotton mills. A year later 69 healthy children suddenly fell paralytically ill in Massachusetts. They lived in a town with three cotton mills, and in settlements downstream from those mills. Nearby there were also orchards on which lead arsenates were almost certainly in use. They were also living only a short distance downstream from the location of the Vermont outbreak.
A further epidemic in Massachusetts in 1908 caused enormous public concern, but, despite the evidence that exposure to toxins might have been responsible, the investigating health officials overlooked the newly introduced pesticides; they thought them essential to their war against viruses and bacteria – and to the financial health of the agricultural industry. Thus, the children paralysed in Massachusetts were not treated with toxin antidotes to see if these would benefit them. Instead, parents were advised to keep their children clean while the scientists, distracted by the then brand new theory that all epidemics had to be caused by infectious germs, looked for the virus ‘responsible’.
In 1908 two scientists working in Austria, Karl Landsteiner and Erwin Popper, reported that they might have found an ‘invisible virus’ that had caused these epidemics. They had made their discovery, they claimed, after making a suspension in water of minced diseased spinal cord from a nine-year-old victim of infantile paralysis. They had tested this noxious suspension by injecting one or two cups of it directly into the brains of two monkeys. The monkeys fell severely ill (as might have been predicted). One died and the other had its legs paralysed. The scientists then dissected the monkeys and found damage in their central nervous tissues similar to that found in human cases of infantile paralysis.
Today the World Health Organisation (WHO) still credits Landsteiner and Popper as having found the poliovirus with this experiment. Why it does so is inexplicable. The fluid they injected must have contained much human cellular debris, any toxins involved in the child’s illness, and probably several kinds of viruses. So, it was no wonder the monkeys fell so desperately ill. Such a soup could in no way be considered an ‘isolate’ of the tiny organism we now call a virus. It was also strangely non-infectious for a so-called virus, for the monkeys were not paralysed when made to drink it or when one of their limbs was injected with it, nor did they pass it on to other monkeys. The experiment, in fact, shed no light on what had paralysed the monkeys, and for that matter, the children.
Nevertheless, the following year Simon Flexner and Paul Lewis of the illustrious Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in the US ‘proved’ a similarly made noxious soup was ‘infectious’ by injecting it into the brain of one monkey. They then extracted some fluid from its brain, injected this into another monkey, and so on through a series of monkeys, paralysing all of them in the process. Flexner and Lewis reported: ‘We failed utterly to discover bacteria… that could account for the disease [paralysis]… The infecting agent of epidemic poliomyelitis [probably] belongs to the class of the minute and filterable viruses that have not thus far been demonstrated with certainty under the microscope.’
In other words, we’ve injected a cocktail of viruses, cellular debris and DNA into a series of monkeys, and we believe that a virus, not yet identified within this noxious cocktail, is responsible! The procedure of Flexner and Lewis was just as dubious as their conclusion: they took no account of the contaminants in their mashed-up soup; they presumed what happened in monkeys would be replicated in humans; and surprisingly, given the evidence around at the time, they didn’t inject samples of cyanide or lead into the brains of monkeys to see if they also caused paralysis. In 1910 neonatologist L Emmett Holt reported: ‘Even five years ago if anyone had suggested that the disease under discussion was an infectious or contagious one, it would have been looked upon as a joke.’
Nevertheless, this crude science inspired a 40-year hunt for the infantile paralysis virus. All kinds of biological materials – spinal cord, brain, faecal matter, even flies – were ground up and injected into monkeys’ brains to try to induce paralysis.
Meanwhile, US president Franklin D Roosevelt, himself a victim of infantile paralysis, set up in 1938 the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (NFIP). The NFIP promptly decided that there was no cure for those already suffering from the disease. It would also refuse to examine reports of successful treatment involving antidotes against toxins. It instead focused on raising money for vaccine research by releasing stories about the horrors of infantile paralysis. The worst cases were indeed frightening: some victims had to be placed in ‘iron lungs’ to help them breathe.
This advertising drive was sensationally successful, effective both in raising money and in spreading fear of the poliovirus, especially among parents. But the authorities had little immediate help for them. They simply advised them to keep their children clean, away from places where infections could be passed on, such as public swimming pools, and to kill flies. The zeal of the parents was encouraged by advertisements showing giant flies attacking children.
While the poorer families responded by swatting flies and using more soap and water, the more affluent tried to turn their homes into sterile zones by constantly spraying them with insecticides. But these sprays proved useless. And what was even more peculiar was that doctors reported the disease was affecting mostly the children from better-off families – especially those who ate the most fresh fruit. People thus started to call the disease ‘the middle-class plague’. All this was so utterly inexplicable that parents were left feeling helpless and despairing.
By the end of the 1930s the vaccine scientists had tested various ‘viral isolates’ from infected monkey brains, but when these isolates were fed orally to monkeys the animals did not fall ill. This was most puzzling. The monkeys produced antibodies afterwards, so some virus must have harmlessly infected them. The only way the scientists found they could create a version of infantile paralysis in the monkeys was by injecting large quantities of the ‘virus’ suspensions directly into their brains.
In 1941 the work of the virus hunters received a potentially fatal setback. Dr John Toomey reported in The Journal of Pediatrics that it was not passed between individuals ‘no matter how intimately exposed.’ If the disease was non-infective, then it could not be caused by a virus and thus a vaccine would not work.
Other holes started to appear in the virus theory. During WWII army doctors found widespread immunity to the suspected poliovirus, and no evidence of infantile paralysis epidemics, in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. In Turkey they found people who called infantile paralysis ‘the American disease’. The doctors were surprised: immunity to the virus presumably meant that it had infected the population. So, how come it caused no epidemics in these countries?
However, the scientists racing to find a vaccine were so convinced that a virus was to blame that they effectively disregarded any evidence to the contrary. Among these it seems was Jonas Salk. In 1947 he found among the debris and toxins of ‘viral isolates’ from monkey brain experiments what he believed to be the poliovirus. Although he had not proved that this could cause polio in humans, he hoped he could use it to make a vaccine. But the highly respected bacteriologist Claus Jungeblut thought otherwise. He observed that such ‘viral isolates’ did not create in monkeys the same disease as found in human cases of infantile paralysis.
He concluded: ‘The highly specialised … virus which has been maintained in the past by intra-cerebral passage in rhesus monkeys is more likely a laboratory artefact than the agent which causes the natural disease in man’. In other words, the ‘virus’ found by the vaccine scientists probably did not exist in the wild but was a product of their experiments.14 If he were right, the consequences were vast. It could mean that the ‘isolates’ used by Salk to make a vaccine injected into over a hundred million people, had no relationship to the human disease it was supposed to counter.
Then, in 1948 Gilbert Dalldorf and Grace Sickles of the New York Department of Health triumphantly claimed that they had found the virus in the excrement of paralysed children. They had spun a sample to remove larger particles, diluted it and injected it into the brains of mice. The animals unsurprisingly became dangerously ill and paralysed.
The news of Dalldorf and Sickles’ experiment was nevertheless welcomed by the vaccine scientists. Up to now they had struggled to find the poliovirus in human spinal tissue. It would now be vastly easier to collect the poliovirus they believed they had identified from human excrement than from human spinal tissue. But why was it so hard to find it in the nerve cells in the spinal column that it supposedly damaged – that is where it had to be, if it really were the cause of infantile paralysis?
In 1951 they discovered a reason why. Quite simply, it was not always there. Instead a different virus might be present eg the Coxsackie virus. This news was grimly received. Their planned polio vaccine would not work against the Coxsackie. There was ‘some feeling of dismay … [this] added one more problem to the nebulous conditions surrounding poliomyelitis… the more we learn about poliomyelitis, the less we know,’ wrote AL Hoynel in the journal The Medical Clinics of North America. A Lancet editorial in the same year said this discovery brought ‘a crop of new snags’ to developing a vaccine.
Soon they discovered that it was possible for many different viruses to be present in these damaged nerve cells. If toxins caused the disease, this would be easy to explain. Many kinds of viruses are attracted to toxin-damaged cells. More bad news for the polio vaccine scientists. The public expected them to deliver vaccines that would stop the epidemics, but it was now evident that their polio vaccines would, at the very best, only prevent some cases, the ones with their poliovirus present.
And yet despite all the doubts and contrary findings, the vaccine research continued. In 1949 John Enders and Thomas Weller discovered how to grow the poliovirus in cell cultures, rather than only in the brains of living animals. This made possible the commercial production of virus-based vaccines. Then it was discovered how to grow their poliovirus on cheap monkey kidney and testicle cells. Monkeys soon became the ‘growing bed’ for the virus. They would be trapped, imported and slaughtered by the hundreds of thousands to make the polio vaccines, and are still caught in the wild today for the purpose of testing the UK vaccine.
By 1954 Salk had his polio vaccine ready for testing. (He confessed to ‘sacrificing’ some 17,000 monkeys in the process of developing it) He based the vaccine on his theory that children would gain immunity to living poliovirus if dead poliovirus were injected into them. He hoped our sensitive immune system would react by creating antibodies to these viral corpses that would also protect us against living wild poliovirus. To kill the virus he poisoned it with formaldehyde before putting it into his vaccine.
In 1954 he tested this concoction on more than 400,000 US children. It was reported afterwards that ‘only’ 112 of the children who received three jabs of his vaccine contracted polio within the next few months. Salk judged his experiment a success. But his safety-test results omitted all cases of children who were paralysed after one or two doses of the vaccine – or within two weeks of taking the third dose. These were counted as cases of polio in the non-vaccinated control group and thus in my view cast doubt on the validity of his results, for it made it impossible to tell just what impact his vaccine had had. It could have been that many of the cases of polio in the control group were caused by one dose of his vaccine – there was nothing in the published accounts I have seen to say that this was not so.
Salk claimed that his vaccine protected ‘30 to 90 per cent’ of those who received it (a remarkably vague statistic). But more than 60 per cent could have been immune already, at least according to the theory of the US federal agency the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that working-class children were already immune as a result of exposure to the virus in dirt. It is not known if Salk ever checked to see if children were already immune before he vaccinated them, but Hilary Koprowski reported in 1957 that the inhabitants of the Congo were 85 per cent immune before they ever saw a dose of polio vaccine. (Amazingly this didn’t stop Koprowski. He went on to uselessly administer to them hundreds of thousands of doses of his experimental vaccine.)
The Salk vaccine could have been derailed if a 1954 report by Dr Bernice Eddy, the scientist in charge of the US government safety-testing lab, had been taken seriously. Eddy stated that when she tested the Salk vaccine it caused severe paralysis in monkeys. She photographed the diseased monkeys, took these photos to her boss – and was reprimanded as an alarmist. She was not sure what it was in the vaccine that caused the paralysis: was it a virus, cellular debris or a toxin? Something quite deadly was clearly present. (One year later, after her warnings proved true, she was stopped from working on polio.)
On April 12 1955, Salk’s polio vaccine was pronounced totally safe and effective in providing complete protection against poliomyelitis (infantile paralysis), when it was launched by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis before an invited audience of 500 doctors and 200 journalists. The launch ceremony was relayed by closed-circuit television to some 54,000 doctors in cities throughout the US and Canada.
Salk was immediately awarded a Congressional Medal by US president Dwight Eisenhower. Church bells were rung in celebration of Salk’s victory. In The Manchester Guardian, Alistair Cooke wrote: ‘Nothing short of the overthrow of the Communist regime in the Soviet Union could bring such rejoicing to the hearts and homes in America as the historic announcement last Tuesday that the 166-year war against poliomyelitis is almost certainly at an end.’
The triumph following the launch of the Salk vaccine was short-lived. The medical historian Dr M Beddow Baily recorded what happened next: ‘Only 13 days after the vaccine had been acclaimed by the whole of the US press and radio as one of the greatest medical discoveries of the century, and two days after the British ministry of health had announced it would go right ahead with the manufacture of the vaccine, came the first news of disaster. Children inoculated with one brand of the vaccine had developed poliomyelitis. In the following days more and more cases were reported, some of them after inoculation with other brands.’
Within two weeks of the launch the number of cases of polio in vaccinated children had nearly reached 200. This created near panic in the White House. President Eisenhower had publicly endorsed the vaccine at its launch, so he sent the US health secretary Oveta Hobby to make it very plain to the Surgeon General that the president needed to be spared the embarrassment of further such cases.
On 8 May 1955 the Surgeon General suspended the entire US production of the vaccine. After hurried meetings between Salk, manufacturers and the surgeon general, distribution of the vaccine was resumed five days later, with new regulations in place to ensure better standards in the vaccine laboratories. The general consensus was that these cases had been caused by viruses in the vaccine that had survived the formaldehyde, despite evidence that repeated injections can cause paralysis.
However, despite these new regulations, four months later more than 2,000 cases of infantile paralysis were recorded in Boston, despite the vaccination of 130,000 children in the city. The previous year it had seen only 273 cases. The number of cases doubled in vaccinated New York State and Connecticut, and tripled in Vermont. They increased by five times in both Rhode Island and Wisconsin. Many were paralysed in the injected arm.
It seemed that the vaccine would soon be totally discredited. So, to protect the President, Salk, the vaccine manufacturers and themselves from the humiliation of an unmitigated failure, the US health authorities had to dramatically slash the incidence of poliomyelitis. They managed this by simply changing the way they recorded the incidents of poliomyelitis. It worked like this:
Prior to 1956, the authorities recorded a patient as having paralytic polio (infantile paralysis) if they suffered from paralytic symptoms for 24 hours.
After 1956 patients had to have these paralytic symptoms for at least 60 days to be counted as having polio. As many people recovered within 60 days, this measure alone dramatically cut the official number of cases. This ‘drop’ in polio cases was publicly credited to the vaccine. Furthermore, all cases of polio occurring within 30 days of vaccination (such as the first 200 cases that had so alarmed the White House) were in future not to be blamed on the vaccine but to be recorded as ‘pre-existing’.
But Salk continued to worry. Despite its regulatory and statistical ‘success’, the reputation of his vaccine was plummeting. In June 1955 the British doctors’ union the Medical Practitioners’ Union wrote: ‘These misfortunes would be almost endurable if a whole new generation were to be rendered permanently immune to the disease. In fact, there is no evidence that any lasting immunity is achieved.’
The following month Canada suspended its distribution of Salk’s vaccine. By November all European countries had suspended distribution plans, apart from Denmark. By January 1957 17 US states had stopped distributing the vaccine. The same year The New York Times reported that nearly 50 per cent of cases of infantile paralysis in children between the ages of five and 14 had occurred after vaccination.
So, more regulatory and statistical changes were needed in order to give the polio vaccine the appearance of a triumph of modern medicine. What better way to achieve this than to reclassify all the cases of polio into numerous other diseases resulting in a massive reduction in polio cases, and a host of other diseases to attract funding. And this is exactly what they did.
Prior to 1958 the definition of infantile paralysis (polio) included cases in which paralysis was minimal: perhaps manifesting itself as a very stiff neck, often accompanied by widespread pain. Polio also included cases of ‘meningitis’, or of inflammation of the membrane that protects the brain and spinal neurons. The CDC describes such cases as ‘serious but rarely fatal’.
Prior to 1958 these cases were scientifically referred to as ‘non-paralytic poliomyelitis’, or polio for short. Henceforward, they would be reclassified. The Los Angeles County health authorities stated: ‘Most cases reported prior to July 1 1958 of non-paralytic poliomyelitis are now reported as viral or aseptic meningitis.’ The incidence of meningitis soared as official polio cases declined, as the following table (compiled from national surveillance reports) shows.
Non-paralytic polio cases | Aseptic meningitis cases:
- 1951-1960: 70,083 | 0
- 1961-1982: 589 | 102,999
- 1983-1992: 0 | 117,366
(Jim West, Images of Poliomyelitis)
These classifications are still used today. Last year the US National Center for Infectious Diseases reported no cases of poliomyelitis but 30,000 to 50,000 cases of aseptic meningitis requiring hospitalisation. There are probably several times this number of incidents of aseptic meningitis that did not require hospitalisation, but statistics are no longer kept for such cases.
Then another scam was enacted to massage down the poliomyelitis figures. It took advantage of the 1951 discovery that different viruses could be present in cases of infantile paralysis. Prior to 1958 this did not matter. A doctor diagnosed a person with polio by taking note of their evident symptoms. They did not investigate to see if the poliovirus were present. In 1958 a new regulation was put in place requiring doctors to only register a patient as having polio if the poliovirus were present, something that was very difficult to establish for sure. For a start, it was impossible to tell by looking at symptoms. The Textbook of Child Neurology reported: ‘Coxsackie virus and echoviruses can cause paralytic syndromes that are clinically indistinguishable from paralytic poliomyelitis.’ This new requirement for doctors caused a vast drop in the number of cases registered as poliomyelitis – a drop that ever since has been credited solely to the vaccine.
So, when patients diagnosed as having polio in a 1958 epidemic in Detroit were re-tested as required by this new rule, 49 per cent were found to have no poliovirus. They had to be reclassified as having ‘non-poliomyelitis acute flaccid paralysis’ even though they were suffering from symptoms identical to poliomyelitis with the same paralysis and the same pain. Other polio cases were reclassified as ‘Guillian-Barré syndrome’, which some researchers now think is what crippled Roosevelt. Yet more cases are now referred to as ‘Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease’, which can also cause paralysis. And last year the Coxsackie virus was found in cases of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), which sometimes shows polio-like symptoms of muscle damage; in the past CFS might have been classified as a form of polio.
If this process of reclassification had not occurred, it would have been impossible to hide the fact that infantile paralysis cases had sharply increased after the introduction of Salk’s vaccine. Without the Coxsackie and aseptic meningitis reclassifications, for example, the number of reported cases of paralytic polio would have doubled from 2,500 in 1957 to 5,000 in 1959.
This deliberate fraud did not go entirely unnoticed, however. Dr Bernard Greenberg, the then head of the Department of Biostatistics at the University of North Carolina, testified at a 1962 Congressional hearing that infantile paralysis cases had increased after the introduction of the vaccine by 50 per cent from 1957 to 1958, and by 80 per cent from 1958 to 1959. He concluded that US health officials had manipulated the statistics to give entirely the opposite impression.
Many infantile paralysis outbreaks between 1905 and the 1940s would be linked by doctors to supplies of contaminated milk, including one in 1927 in Broadstairs in Kent. The Broadstairs outbreak was fairly typical. It affected institutions such as boarding schools that had little contact with each other, but which took milk from a common source. These epidemics ended when suspected milk supplies were stopped. Lead arsenate was being used as a cattle dip, but the formaldehyde that used to be added to milk to prolong its ‘shelf life’ may also have been responsible. (In 1897 The Australian Medical Gazette reported that formaldehyde in milk had caused several cases of paralysis.)
1 Muscles can be poisoned and paralysed by being repeatedly injected with vaccines or antibiotics; this is now called ‘provocation paralysis’, and was no secret in the 1950s. In 1952 vaccinations had been suspended for the summer in the UK and US (the ‘infantile paralysis season’) as the injected arms of many children had been paralysed. The Lancet had reported: ‘Clinically, the cases associated with recent immunisations were indistinguishable from the acute cases of paralytic poliomyelitis.’ By 1955 US children were receiving three injections with Salk’s polio vaccine, as well as the smallpox and whooping cough vaccines.
2 Also, the Salk vaccine was far from pure. We now know that it was contaminated with a small amount of formaldehyde and viral debris.
What are viruses?
The pharmaceutical industry makes vast profits by exploiting paranoia about viruses, so it is important to understand just what viruses are. When viruses were first discovered they were presumed to be enemies. (The word ‘virus’ is Latin for ‘poisonous fluid’.) This was a serious misconception.
We now know that human bodies need and create viruses. Our cells contain tiny molecular engineers, known as transposons, which cut and adapt our DNA. Sometimes we may need to send genetic code from one cell to another – perhaps so as to resolve genetic problems or to deal with toxins. Cells can do this by turning transposons into messengers that carry genetic code from cell to cell. Traveling transposons are called ‘endogenous’ viruses: we manufacture them ourselves. They are essential to our genetic information highway. We make millions of such viruses.
Other viruses are ‘exogenous’: they originate from outside the human body. They must enter (infect) cells in order to ‘reproduce’. Some kill the cells they use to do this – others do not. If they are viruses that we have never met before, then they are more likely to be dangerous to us. Such a virus has recently been found present in 85 per cent of all cases of a cancer, mesothelioma, which is caused by asbestos. This virus, SV40, seemingly makes this toxin more dangerous to us, by switching off a human gene, p53, which protects us against cancer. And yet many exogenous viruses also do us no harm. We sometimes welcome them by making their genetic code part of our DNA. As such these harmless viruses are likely to have been around humanity for a long time. We have become adapted to each other.
Polio: are pesticides to blame?
Endocrinologist Morton Biskind said the spread of polio after WWII was caused by the ‘most intensive campaign of mass poisoning in human history’ – the spraying of some 3.1 billion pounds of pesticides.
The first epidemic of poliomyelitis in a tropical nation was contemporaneous with the introduction of the pesticide DDT in that country. Towards the end of WWII, US military camps in the Philippines started to be sprayed daily with DDT in order to kill flies. Writing in The Journal of the American Medical Association two years after the war, Albert Sabin reported that poliomyelitis became, after conflict, the major cause of death among the troops stationed at these camps. And yet unsprayed neighbouring populations were not affected by the disease. At the end of the war, the US military’s stocks of DDT were sold onto the public – despite the gravest warnings from establishment scientists.
In 1944, the US federal research centre the National Institutes of Health reported that DDT damaged the same part of the spinal cord (the anterior horn cells) that is damaged in infantile paralysis. Endocrinologist Dr Morton Biskind further described in 1949 how DDT caused ‘lesions in the spinal cord resembling those in human polio in animals’. He commented: ‘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.’ The same year in Germany, Daniel Dresden found that acute DDT poisoning produced ‘degeneration in the central nervous system’ that seemed identical to that reported in severe cases of infantile paralysis.
Yet DDT was used to replace lead arsenate as a pesticide in fruit farming and with which to wash dairy cows. Heavy levels of DDT were soon reported in milk supplies. The organochlorine pesticide DDE (which is several times more dangerous than DDT) was also widely used in the US. Both were known to penetrate the blood-brain barrier that protects the human brain from viral invasion. Housewives were actually advised to spray DDT to stop infantile paralysis. Children’s bedrooms had wallpaper pre-soaked in DDT. Epidemics of infantile paralysis started to occur every year.
By 1952 the number of cases of infantile paralysis was three times higher than the figure for 1940.
Biskind treated over 200 patients affected with such neurological disorders. He found that many of these patients recovered when foods contaminated with pesticides were removed from their diets; this applied particularly to milk products. Biskind found high concentrations of DDT in butter purchased in New York. In 1949 he wrote: ‘Though it was originally observed in 1945 that DDT is absorbed through the skin, accumulates in the body fat and appears in the milk of animals, it has recently become almost universal practice to spray cattle with DDT… 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.’
Despite the official complacency about substances like DDT and DDE, a few doctors did consider the effects of toxins. Some reported successfully treating paralysed patients with dimercaprol, an anti-toxin that is still used in hospitals since it ‘binds’ heavy metal poisons such as arsenic and lead and renders them non-toxic. In 1951 Dr Irwin Eskwith reported successfully using dimercaprol to cure a child suffering from bulbar paralysis, the most severe form of infantile paralysis. A medical journal also reported that 17 acute cases of polio were cured after treatment with very large doses of another anti-toxin – ascorbic acid.