As my chiropractor and main health care provider, Denice Hilty, DC, has always stressed, catching a virus, bacterial disease or other illness can generally be avoided by keeping your immune system balanced and strong. This means the whole immune system – especially the gut microbiome, which bears 70-80% of the responsibility for keeping the whole body running smoothly and protecting us from pathogenic invaders.
Hearing about viral or bacterial infectious diseases that have turned into epidemics or pandemics is of course quite frightening. An epidemic describes a disease affecting a large number of people in a single area. A pandemic is an epidemic that spreads to a much wider area, across geographic areas.
DEADLIEST PANDEMICS IN HISTORY
THE SMALLPOX PANDEMIC THAT KILLED 300 MILLION PEOPLE OVER THOUSANDS OF YEARS
Smallpox is caused by a moderately contagious virus called Variola major. Initial symptoms began 12 days after exposure. (Fenn, 2003)
In the old world, smallpox was an ancient scourge dating back to prehistory. Scientists have found DNA evidence that the virus originated 10,500 years ago. Some 3,000 year old Egyptian mummies show evidence of having been afflicted by the disease.
The conquest of the New World was achieved by disease, not by guns or ships, during the decades following Columbus’ arrival in 1492. The mass deaths during the great smallpox plague in the New World was a profoundly significant, history-changing event. The indigenous people living in the Americas, unlike Europeans, Africans and Asians, had not had the benefit of co-evolving with the smallpox virus for millenia and these people died in droves from it: perhaps 80-95% of the 50-100 million native people living on this side of the world – approximately the same number as had lived in all of Europe in the late 1400’s. (Wayne, 2012)
When the Vikings landed in American 500 years before Columbus, they found groups of resilient indigenous people. Fortunately, the Vikings didn’t carry any terrible infectious diseases with them. But then Columbus’ second voyage to the New World (1493-96) brought 1,000 Spanish to settle in Hispaniola. These colonists introduced European epidemic diseases – such as influenza, smallpox, measles and typhus, which spread through the local people in the Caribbean, drastically reducing their population over the next 50 years.
The Spanish conquistador Cortes and his men inadvertently brought smallpox with them into the sophisticated Aztec empire in what is now central Mexico. A Spanish priest traveling with Cortes described the destruction he encountered in the Aztec’s capitol city of Tenochtitlán in 1520. (Wayne, 2012):
“As the Indians did not know the remedy of the disease…they died in heaps, like bedbugs. In many places it happened that everyone in a house died and, as it was impossible to bury the great number of dead, they pulled down the houses over them so that their homes become their tombs.”
The drawing below depicts Nahuas of central Mexico suffering from smallpox transmitted to them by the Spanish conquistadors:
About 30% of smallpox cases ended in death, usually during the second week of the disease. Most who survived the illness bore some degree of permanent scarring. Lip, nose and ear tissue could be eaten away by the virus. Blindness could result from corneal scarring.
The smallpox virus was spread through close contact with the sores or respiratory droplets of an infected person or through contact with contaminated bedding or clothing. A sufferer remained infectious until the last scab fell from the skin. (College of Physicians of Philadelphia, 2014)
See this interesting timeline of information about smallpox, from 1000, in China, through 2010, prepared by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The last identified naturally occurring case of smallpox was in Somalia in 1977.
Throughout history, about 70% of people who contracted smallpox survived – and apparently not everyone who was ever exposed to the virus became ill. Why?
MEASLES (World Health Organization, 2014)
The measles virus is highly contagious and spread by coughing and sneezing, close personal contact or direct contact with infected nasal or throat secretions.
Being malnourished and otherwise unhealthy increases the risk of contracting measles when exposed to the virus. A strong clue to how to avoid contracting measles in the first place?
INFLUENZA PANDEMIC 1918-1919 (Wikipedia, 10/8/2014)
Another viral pandemic, the co-called Spanish Flu or La Grippe, was unusually deadly. Between January 1918 and December 1920 it infected 500 million people world wide, including on remote Pacific islands and the Arctic, killing 50-100 million of them. This represented 3-5% of the world’s population at the time. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history and, occurring during World War I, greatly interfered with the war effort in participating countries. The Spanish Flu was the first of two pandemics caused by the H1N1 virus.
Unlike other influenzas, it tended to strike young adults who were thought to be healthy. Modern research, using virus samples taken from the bodies of frozen victims, concluded that the virus kills through a cytokine storm, an overreaction of the body’s immune system. The scientists believe the strong immune reactions of young adults overcame their bodies while the weaker immune systems of children and middle-aged adults resulted in fewer deaths among those groups.
Again, not every ‘healthy’ young adult who was exposed to this influenza virus succumbed to it. Why?
THE BLACK DEATH (BUBONIC PLAGUE)
DNA evidence taken from human remains found in a 14th century mass burial site of Black Death victims and unearthed during recent excavations in London found evidence that the epidemic was caused by a contagious airborne bacterium called Yersinia pestis, not by rat fleas as had long been believed. Plague researchers extracted DNA of the Black Death bacterium from the largest teeth in some of the skulls and compared it to the DNA responsible for an outbreak of a pneumonic plague that killed 60 people in Madagascar in 2012. The DNA codes were an almost perfect match.
Public Health England scientists say a plague that moved through the population at the rapid pace of the Black Plague couldn’t possibly have been spread by rat fleas biting a diseased person and then biting other people. The speed of transmission could only have been spread by bacteria from the lungs of victims expelled by coughs and sneezes, making Bubonic* Plague a pneumonic plague. The infection could only have been spread directly from human to human. The bacterial strain responsible for the Black Plague in the Middle Ages was no more virulent than today’s disease. It spread so quickly because its victims were malnourished and ill, with weak immune systems. (Thorpe, 3/29/2014)
* Buboes are inflammatory swellings of lymphatic glands, especially in the groins or armpits. The Bubonic Plague derived its name from this symptom.
“Black Death” derives from the disease’s symptom of death of tissue, often in the extremities. The dead, gangrenous tissue turns black.
The Bubonic Plague pandemic in Central Asia and Europe killed an estimated 75 to 200 million people during the Middle Ages. Yet a significant percentage of people who were exposed to the plague bacteria either didn’t become ill or actually became ill from it but then survived. The Black Death arrived in Britain in the autumn of 1348. By late spring of 1349 it had killed 6 out of every 10 Londoners.
This means 4 in 10 Londoners were able to survive the plague. The interesting question is why the many survivors were able to resist catching this plague or didn’t succumb if they did become ill with it.
RECENT VIRAL EPIDEMICS
Here’s a list of some of the more recent viral epidemics and their death toll numbers (Wikipedia, 10/9/2014):
Asian Flu of 1957–1958. Death toll: 2,000,000
Hong Kong Flu of 1968-69. Death toll: 1,000,000
HIV/Aids Pandemic in the Congo Basin 1960-present. Death toll: >30,000
Smallpox Epidemic of 1974 in India. Death Toll: 15,000
SARS Coronavirus Epidemic of 2002-3 in Asia. Death toll: 775
Worldwide Flu Pandemic of 2009-10. Death toll: 14,286
Ebola Virus Epidemic of 2013-present in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, US, Spain. Death toll: 3866 (as of October 2014)
Again, many people who were exposed to these viruses, including Ebola, either didn’t become ill or caught the virus and survived. Why?
Current information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (10/22/2014) on how Ebola Virus is transmitted:
Ebola is spread through direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes in, for example, the eyes, nose, or mouth) with
- blood or body fluids (including but not limited to urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen) of a person who is sick with Ebola
- objects (like needles and syringes) that have been contaminated with the virus
- infected fruit bats or primates (apes and monkeys)
Ebola is not spread through the air or by water, or in general, by food. However, in Africa, Ebola may be spread as a result of handling bushmeat (wild animals hunted for food) and contact with infected bats. There is no evidence that mosquitoes or other insects can transmit Ebola virus. Only a few species of mammals (for example, humans, bats, monkeys, and apes) have shown the ability to become infected with and spread Ebola virus.
Healthcare providers caring for Ebola patients and the family and friends in close contact with Ebola patients are at the highest risk of getting sick because they may come in contact with infected blood or body fluids of sick patients.
During outbreaks of Ebola, the disease can spread quickly within healthcare settings (such as a clinic or hospital). Exposure to Ebola can occur in healthcare settings where hospital staff are not wearing appropriate protective equipment, including masks, gowns, and gloves and eye protection.
Dedicated medical equipment (preferable disposable, when possible) should be used by healthcare personnel providing patient care. Proper cleaning and disposal of instruments, such as needles and syringes, is also important. If instruments are not disposable, they must be sterilized before being used again. Without adequate sterilization of the instruments, virus transmission can continue and amplify an outbreak.
Once someone recovers from Ebola, they can no longer spread the virus. However, Ebola virus has been found in semen for up to 3 months. Abstinence from sex (including oral sex) is recommended for at least 3 months. If abstinence is not possible, condoms may help prevent the spread of disease.
Also, Ebola is apparently difficult to catch. Read this – the information is from an article on Nature.com called Largest ever Ebola outbreak is not a global threat: Although the virus is exerting a heavy toll in West Africa, it does not spread easily. (Butler, 2014). I’ve seen similar information about the difficulty of catching Ebola cited in many other places as well.
Wait, Ebola is hard to catch?
Though the strain of Ebola in the current outbreak appears to kill 56% of the people it infects, to become infected in the first place, a person’s mucous membranes, or an area of broken skin, must come into contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, such as blood, urine, saliva, semen or stools, or materials contaminated with these fluids such as soiled clothing or bed linen. By contrast, respiratory pathogens such as those that cause the common cold or flu are coughed and sneezed into the air and can be contracted just by breathing or touching contaminated surfaces, such as door knobs. A pandemic flu virus can spread around the world in days or weeks and may be unstoppable whereas Ebola only causes sporadic localised outbreaks that can usually be stamped out.
Some reasons there has been a higher rate of transmission in West Africa – also from the Butler article cited above (Butler, 2014):
Local health authorities and international organisations such as WHO and Médecins Sans Frontières (also known as Doctors Without Borders) are struggling to control the spread in these areas because of a lack of trust and cooperation among the affected populations. Doctors and health workers have sometimes been blocked from accessing affected places because of opposition from villagers who fear the medics will bring the disease. According to the WHO, not all people who are infected are getting or seeking care, and so are passing the virus on to family and other close contacts. Another major driver of new infections is that families are often continuing to perform traditional burial rites that involve mourners having direct contact with the bodies of the dead – and unfortunately all too often Ebola.
I hope this information will put your worry about contracting Ebola in perspective and reassure you.
STAYING HEALTHY: A STRONG AND BALANCED IMMUNE SYSTEM
YOU ARE NOT HELPLESS AGAINST THE EBOLA VIRUS – SHOULD YOU HAPPEN TO BE EXPOSED TO IT.
THE BEST WAY TO STAY HEALTHY AND AVOID BEING STRICKEN BY WHATEVER BAG BUGS ARE GOING AROUND – INCLUDING THE EBOLA VIRUS – IS TO KEEP THE MICRO-ORGANISMS LIVING IN YOUR GUT MICROBIOME – YOUR GUT IMMUNITY – BALANCED AND STRONG.
Can you identify who is malnourished in the three photos below?
It’s obvious in the children who are all skin and bones. We expect them to have an impaired immune system from lack of nutrition. But what about the overweight children and man? And the normal picture of health man? The overweight, so-called well-fed ones are also malnourished. And the normal-weight man may be suffering from malnourishment and a weakened immune system too – it depends on what kind of foods he’s consuming.
THE NEW MALNUTRITION (Turner, 2014) (Jeff & Dee, 2012)
Even people who appear quite healthy – at a reasonable body weight – can be malnourished and have unbalanced, weak gut immunity. Doctors tend to take our blood pressure, get our weight, listen to our hearts, and look at our blood test results. If those all look okay to them, they tell us we’re in good health. If they were to investigate the state of our gut microbiomes, they would likely often come to contrary conclusions.
From Paul Rodney Turner’s article Malnutrition – the great killer behind the curtain. Turner is the International Director of Food for Life Global:
“Malnutrition is a far greater problem than world hunger. Why? Because even if a person gets sufficient quantities of food, they can still be undernourished and thus subject to chronic disease, if the food they consume does not provide the proper amounts of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) to meet their daily nutritional requirements.
“In other words, being overweight does not necessarily mean being well nourished. According to the UN Hunger Report, nearly 870 million people, or one in eight, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2010-2012. The vast majority of the hungry, 852 million, live in developing countries — around 15 percent of their population — while 16 million people are undernourished in developed countries. The FAO states that the world is increasingly faced with a double burden of malnutrition, with chronic undernourishment and micronutrient malnutrition co-existing with obesity, overweight and related non-communicable diseases (affecting more than 1.4 billion people worldwide).
“Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five – 3.1 million children each year. However, with much of the imagery related to these reports showing emaciated children in Africa and India, most people fail to realize that obesity is another form of this same chronic problem.
“According to the United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition (SCN) malnutrition is the largest single contributor to worldwide disease.”
Without adequate nutrition, our cells don’t receive the nutrients they need to stay healthy. They become weak and unable to repair themselves. They start to malfunction and die prematurely. Or they fail to die when they should and we develop cancers.
Without proper nutrition, our bodies suffer from chronic inflammation. Our immune systems become seriously compromised. We develop chronic autoimmune diseases. A virus comes along and we are unable to repel it.
If you’re eating the Standard American Diet of fast and processed foods (aptly abbreviated as SAD), you’re probably consuming an abundance of calories. Your stomach may feel nicely full but what you’re consuming is typically nutrient-poor. The empty calories you eat provide some macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats) while robbing your body of micronutrients. You’re eating dead food that has a long shelf-life instead of foods that are alive with nutrients.
This is very important information. It explains why only some people become ill or succumb in an epidemic or pandemic.
Famine, malnutrition and suppressed immunity (from whatever cause) go hand in hand with epidemics and pandemics.
Turner’s article also points out:
The three greatest killers of the modern world are:
- Cardiovascular disease
All are directly related to our food choices. According to WHO (UN World Health Organization) more than 30 million people a year die as a result of those three diseases. That means just changing our food choices alone can potentially save 30 million lives a year!
While these diseases aren’t the result of a bacterium or a virus, 30 million deaths per year certainly qualifies them nonetheless to be designated as worldwide pandemics.
Butler, D. (2014). Largest ever Ebola outbreak is not a global threat: Although the virus is exerting a heavy toll in West Africa, it does not spread easily. Nature.com. See: http://www.nature.com/news/largest-ever-ebola-outbreak-is-not-a-global-threat-1.15640
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ebola (Ebola Virus Disease) – Transmission. 10/22/2014. See: http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/transmission/index.html?s_cid=cs_3923
College of Physicians of Philadelphia. (2014). History of Smallpox. The History of Vaccines. See: http://www.historyofvaccines.org/content/timelines/smallpox
Fenn, E. (2003). The Great Smallpox Epidemic. History Today, 53:8. See: http://www.historytoday.com/elizabeth-fenn/great-smallpox-epidemic
Horowitz, L. & Devita, S. (2002). Essential Oils for Biological Warfare Preparedness. See: http://www.tetrahedron.org/articles/apocalypse/essential_oils.html
Jeff & Dee. (2012). Can we be well fed but malnourished? Better Choices, Better Body. See: http://www.betterchoicesbetterbody.com/2012/10/08/can-we-be-well-fed-but-malnourished/
Thorpe, V. (3/29/2014). Black death skeletons reveal pitiful life of 14th-century Londoners: DNA from emaciated London Black Death skeletons matches modern plague bacteria and supports airborne theory of spread. The Observer. See: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/mar/29/black-death-not-spread-rat-fleas-london-plague
Turner, P.R. ((2014). Malnutrition – the great killer behind the curtain. Food For Life Global. See: http://www.ffl.org/2014/malnutrition-the-great-killer-behind-the-curtain/
Wayne. (2012). The Smallpox Plague. See: http://ferrebeekeeper.wordpress.com/2012/10/08/the-smallpox-plague/
Wikipedia. (10/8/2014). 1918 flu pandemic. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1918_flu_pandemic
Wikipedia. (19/9/2014). List of epidemics. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_epidemics
World Health Organization. (2014). Measles: Fact Sheet no. 286. See: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs286/en/
DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
© Copyright 2014 Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.