Historical account of Spanish flu shows how bad it can get

Arctic explorer describes bout with 1918 flu in memoir
The evidence is in: expert says Mexican flu could have laboratory origin

News analysis

By Peter Duveen

PETER'S NEW YORK, Thursday, May 14, 2001--As health officials worldwide scramble to stem a flu pandemic, the public may be puzzled as to what all the fuss is about. Flu is generally an illness which, for most, is not more serious than the common cold. But there is good reason for concern, if the past is any judge of what the future could be like.

Because the strain of flu currently spreading around the world is said to be a descendant of the Spanish flu, deaths among those contracting the illness could be far in excess of those produced by other strains of the virus. The Spanish flu, also named the 1918 flu, was known for the high proportion of deaths attributed to those infected by it. It had a mortality rate of 2.5 percent or more, far greater than that of ordinary human flu.

A typical experience is related by the Arctic explorer, Peter Freuchen, who came down with the illness soon after returning to Denmark from Greenland in December of 1918. The following account is from Freuchen's 1935 memoir, Arctic Adventure: My Life in the Frozen North:

"An epidemic of the Spanish influenza swept over Europe, and I contracted it. I was walking along the streets of Copenhagen when suddenly I felt dizzy. I staggered up to a couple of policemen and asked them to call me a taxi. Unfortunately there was a telephone strike on at the moment, and they could not call for a cab. Also, they thought I was drunk. When I denied this it only convinced them they had been right and they bundled me off to the police station where, fortunately, I was recognized and rushed to a hospital.

"I was kept there for four months, and for a long time was so ill that I was isolated in a ward reserved for dying patients. I remember that the room was meant to accommodate six beds, but the epidemic raged so furiously that on one morning eleven patients were brought in alive, and nine bodies carried away before evening. I was one of the lucky two who survived. the other was a champion wrestler and a devil to handle in his delirium as, they told me, I was. It took three porters to hold me down, and I played football with them, tossing them from one side of the bed to the other.

"Then Navarana (Freuchen's wife) came to visit me, and she was the only one who could keep me quiet. My mother and my sisters also visited me as well as a number of newspapermen. Navarana sat beside me most of the day.....

Freuchen later says, "I was so weak after being released from the hospital that I could not walk for a long while. My hair fell out. I was thinner than I had ever been, and tortured with sciatica."

The flu had not done with him yet, however. His wife later came down with it, and unexpectedly passed away.

"It was apparent by now that Navarana had Spanish influenza, the same disease to which I had fallen victim the year before. I did not leave her side, and got our good friend, Fat Sofie, to help nurse her. Navarana was thankful that I could be with her, though she was torn with anxiety for her children. She would have liked me to go up to Thule and see that Mequsaq (their son) was being cared for properly.

"The next day Navarana was worse. There was no doctor in Upernivik (Greenland) at the time, and there was nothing more we could do for her. In the evening she asked me what I though was the matter. Her head was buzzing with thoughts which came unsummoned, she said. It was ghastly to sit helpless and watch her fade away. I told her to try to sleep, but she could not....

"Then she took my hand in hers and told me how happy she had been in having a husband who would talk with her as an equal. And finally she said that she was very sleepy. I went into the kitchen to brew tea for her. As I sat and watched the water it came over me how much I loved her, and how much she had developed since our marriage....Navarana was so quiet that I tiptoed in to look at her. As I watched, her lip just quivered. Then she was dead.

"I would not believe it. I had somehow never thought of the illness as much more than a bad cold, but I called the young assistant, and he could only concur in what I saw before me."

Soon after his wife's death, while preparing for a new expedition to the Canadian north, one of the members of the team died.

"...the doctor gave up hope for Iggianguaq. His wife sat beside him and held his hand, crying as she stroked his head. I new what the poor man suffered, for he had the same symptoms I had had. He found it increasingly difficult to catch his breath, and died one night with all of us standing about unable to help him."

In light of the above account, and countless others like it, it is no wonder public health officials are concerned about a flu pandemic.

However, citizens are confused, and have good reason to be. The U.S. government has confirmed that the dissemination of anthrax bacterium through the mails in October, 2001, which killed five and had the potential to kill millions, originated from a laboratory in Ft. Detrick, a U.S. military installation located in Frederick, Maryland. Anthrax powder was mailed to a number of high-profile destinations, including members of the U.S. Senate and prominent journalists, accompanied by notes crafted to make it look like the act was being perpetrated by Moslems. Exposure to anthrax triggers a disease that is often fatal if not treated on time with antibiotics.

In 2005, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it had successfully resuscitated the Spanish flu after extracting it from the dead bodies of people who were known to have died from it. This resurrected germ caused the deaths of animals exposed to it. The CDC originally said it would limit experimentation on the reborn 1918 virus to its own facilities, but has since released samples to other countries for research.

News reports indicate that the Mexican flu has elements of the Spanish flu. The possibility that the Spanish flu could escape from a government laboratory hovers like a dark cloud over the world's population.

Not only is an accidental dispersion of a laboratory-formulated flu a worrisome event, but a deliberate release, similar to the anthrax attacks, is also a concern. While the Federal Bureau of Investigation attributed the attacks to a Ft. Detrick scientist, Bruce Ivins, immediately following his alleged suicide in 2008 (an autopsy was not performed), many credible individuals have doubted the FBI's conclusions. Thus, there may still be at large a renegade scientist, or even a covert government operation, bent on dispersing government-held microbes. In fact, there would be nothing to stop a top-secret clique from concocting a super-flu by mixing the deadly bird flu, which cannot be passed from person to person, with human flu, thus creating a microbe that shares the characteristics of both lethality and communicability.

In February, as reported by the Canadian Press and other news agencies, it was discovered that the U.S. pharmaceutical firm Baxter International Inc. sent out samples of an experimental human flu vaccine that were contaminated with the bird flu virus. The contamination, whether deliberate or accidental, was detected when those receiving the vaccine tested it on ferrets. The deaths of the ferrets indicated the presence of bird flu, which is far more deadly to humans than ordinary flu. By mixing the two microbes, scientists fear that new viruses could emerge that have both the communicability of human flu and the deadliness of bird flu.

There can be no doubt that such a scenario is within the realm of possibility. In fact, scientists are capable of juggling strains of flu together in a manner that would be impossible for nature to duplicate. As such, the recent conclusions of a research scientist who worked on the development of the anti-virus drug Tamiflu, is instructive.

As Bloomberg reported yesterday, Adrian Gibbs, a retired research scientist, has written a paper indicating that the current Mexican strain of flu may have been prepared in a laboratory and released accidentally. The paper has been circulated among major world health organizations for review, and the author intends to submit it for publication, Bloomberg reported.

Gibbs found significant differences between the Mexican flu strain and those generally infecting swine. "One of the simplest explanations is that it's a laboratory escape," Gibbs told Bloomberg TV.

The inescapable conclusion is that, in searching for the origin of the Mexican flu, scientists must consider either accidental or deliberate creation and release of such viruses, rather than restricting investigations to what might occur in nature. In particular, U.S. government facilities, which have been known to release pathogens and to have fabricated them in the laboratory, must be considered prime suspects in any investigation.

Why would governments be interested in releasing germs and infecting the public? A pandemic event would provide a pretext for bringing the public under government control to a degree not tolerated under normal circumstances.

There are few things more horrifying to a society than a spreading disease that is likely to be lethal. A pandemic could be used to cement what would amount to an extralegal consolidation of government power while leaving cosmetic but nonfunctioning democratic institutions intact. Laws enacted under the threat of terrorism during the Bush Administration, such as the "Patriot Act," and the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security, have made such a transformation easier to implement. The Obama Administration and the Democratic Congress do not appear to be mounting any opposition to the reconfiguration of government enacted during the Bush years.

Still another reason why governments might want to be involved in triggering a pandemic has to do with population control. A paring down of the human populations such as would occur during a serious flu pandemic would dovetail with the hopes of those who believe the world population is not sustainable at current levels, and should be drastically reduced. Population control pundits include some of the most powerful names in world affairs, including Bill Gates of Microsoft fame, Billionaire George Soros, and members of the Rockefeller family who established the Population Council in the 1950s. The above elites often gather with U.S. officials in conclaves shielded from public scrutiny, such as the Bilderberg Group, now convening in Greece. While some population control groups claim to be only interested in slowing population growth, others hope to see a population reduction of as much as 50 percent or more. It is known that local communities have been canvassed by the government to find out how much grave space they have in the event of a national disaster. This begs the question of exactly what kind of disaster the government is anticipating, and why, and why local communities have not been tutored on ways to avoid catastrophic death in the event of such a disaster.

It is unlikely the U.S. government would be interested in mounting an investigation of itself, particularly in the event that it was actually involved in such population paring activities involving the release of human pathogens. One sign of such involvement, however, would be rejection out of hand of any evidence or reasoning implicating such government complicity.

All in all, any legitimate investigation into the origins of the Mexican flu must take into account the possibility of accidental and opportunistic manufacture and dissemination of microbes as well as their natural generation.


(The original, with extensive links, corrections and additions, may be found at http://www.petersnewyork.com/spanishflu.html.)