Today viruses and bacteria are held responsible for many illnesses, despite the evidence that they are not always harmful and other factors are at play. Not every disease has its microbes, and not every microbe causes disease.
Of course the bio-chemical industry likes to portray the environment as swarming with deadly bacteria and viruses out to get us, from which only drugs and other chemicals can save us. But it’s simply not true. Viruses and bacteria are present in our system 100% of the time, but not everyone is ill 100% of the time. We are literally teeming with them. There are more viruses in a pint of seawater than there are people, but our immune system deals with them. Something else has to happen in addition before we become ill.
Even so, medical science’s response to microbes centres on two approaches – antibiotics and vaccines. The first kills the microbes, the second aims to strengthen the body’s immune system so it is better able to withstand the unwanted invaders.
The Pox Puss Man
The word ‘vaccinate’ comes from the Latin ‘vacca’ which means cow. The choice of terminology is down to the discoveries of an English country doctor two hundred years ago.
Edward Jenner (1749- 1823) was not the first to inoculate against disease., but he was the first to bring it to the mainstream in modern Europe. Records show that it was used in India and China at least a thousand years ago. The practice is also documented in America as early as 1721, when a man named Zabdiel Boylston successfully inoculated two slaves and his own son against smallpox, having heard of the practice from one of his African slaves.
As a young man, Jenner trained in London, returning to his home in rural Gloucestershire in 1772. In those days, smallpox was one of the most feared diseases. It killed one in every three who caught it and left those who survived it badly disfigured. In 1788 an epidemic of smallpox hit Gloucestershire and during this outbreak he observed that patients who worked with cattle and had come in contact with the much milder version, cowpox, never caught smallpox. Milkmaids who caught cowpox only got blisters on their hands, and Jenner concluded that somehow the pus in the blisters was protecting the women. What if injecting someone with cowpox made them able to defend themselves against smallpox?
In 1796 he had an opportunity to test out his theory. He took some pus from cowpox blisters found on the hand of a milkmaid and – with permission from his father – smeared it over a small incision on the hand of a young boy called James Phipps. This was a brave move, because if he had killed the boy, he would have been hanged. He repeated this over a number of days, gradually increasing the amount of pus he put into the boy. He then deliberately injected him with smallpox. James became ill but soon made a full recovery with no side effects.
He then took his discovery to the medical establishment in London. Humbug, they said. Clerics claimed it was ungodly to inoculate humans with material from a diseased animal, and learned doctors demanded more proof – how could a mere country doctor have made such an important discovery? Jenner continued experimenting, writing a series of case histories, until his discovery was accepted. By 1840, treatments for smallpox other than Jenner’s had been banned by the UK government.
Jenner’s technique certainly had a positive effect. Smallpox had been a major killer, and while it did not eradicate the disease, it had a marked impact on fatality rates in cities such as London and Manchester. After successful vaccination campaigns throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the World Health Organisation announced that smallpox had been completely eradicated in December 1979, the only human infectious disease to have been completely wiped out on a global scale.
Since Jenner’s day, vaccines have been a mainstay in doctors’ armoury. They are heavily marketed by the pharmaceutical companies, promoted by governments and, in many countries, mandatory for small children. Vast sums are spent on research, and yet – surprisingly – the evidence is not conclusive.
Take Tamiflu – promoted as being able to alleviate the symptoms of Swine Flu. In 2007, the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began investigating some 1,800 reported adverse events that were experienced following its use. Serious side effects of Tamiflu include convulsions, delirium or delusions. 14 deaths in children and teens occured as a result of neuropsychiatric problems and brain infections.
In his book, ‘Virtual Medicine, Dr Keith Scott-Mumby suggests that vaccinations may be related to allergies. ‘Childhood vaccines, which drop toxins on the immune system, spleen etc. may be partly responsible for the explosion in allergies since World War 2. The child may avoid polio etc. only to suffer with many more obscure and hard-to-treat symptoms later in life.’ He adds, ‘I have seen childhood illnesses and especially vaccines initiate disease sequences so many times that I am left with a sense of great unease.’
So, like antibiotics, caution with vaccinations is needed. We certainly don’t want to return to the epidemics of old, but neither do we want to use them indiscriminately without understanding their effects. The evidence is inconclusive and sometimes contradictory. They are effective when targeted specifically, but in some cases highly damaging and almost certainly overused. In any case, they are of little use in third world countries where the masses can’t afford mass vaccinations.
There are other ways of strengthening the immune system that are safer, painless and do not have the same side-effects, that are cheaper and effective. If medical science would put as much money and effort into these, how many lives could be improved?
©David Lawrence Preston, 4.5.2016
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 These are widely available on-line, for example at http://www.bartleby.com/38/4/1.html
 Timpanagos Publishers, 2005, ISBN 0-935329-02-1, page 120