Bird Flu Threat – November/December 2005
What you need to know to be prepared by Sandra J. Perko, PhD, CCN
(from the website of The National Center of Homeopathy)
One morning in December of 1991 while I was having my morning tea and reading the paper, an interesting headline caught my eye: “Scientists Say Killer Flu Chances High.” The first paragraph read, “Today, 73 years after the infamous ‘Spanish flu’ of 1918 swept the world, leaving 22 million dead, scientists say there is no reason it cannot happen again.”
This article went on to reveal, what to me at that time, was an astonishing thing, namely: “Although scientists cannot predict when the next pandemic will strike, they have uncovered surprising knowledge of where flu viruses come from.” As I was expecting some convoluted medical jargon, the next sentence made me laugh out loud. It said, “Research shows that the breeding place for major flu viruses is in the intestines of wild ducks.”
Although this knowledge has been scientifically verified for the last 20 to 25 years, it still comes as an almost comical surprise to much of the general public. Yet, homeopathy, light years ahead of its time, has provided a specific influenza remedy, which is indeed made from the tissues of wild ducks. That remedy, Oscillococcinum®, was introduced by Dr. Joseph Roy in France during the 1918–1919 Spanish Flu pandemic and has been successfully used for influenza epidemics and pandemics ever since.*
After I got over my initial chuckle about ducks and flu, this newspaper article sparked my interest in influenza in general, and more specifically, in the great pandemic of 1918–1919. I recalled stories that my great-aunt used to tell of that terrible time and of the deaths of so many family members from this flu. Most vivid were my aunt’s descriptions of the many funerals she attended, and how there were so many that all funeral homes had waiting lists, until at last, funerals were canceled altogether.
Judging by all these deaths, I gathered that conventional medicine of that era was unsuccessful in dealing with the pandemic. But because homeopathy was a popular treatment during that time period as well, this made me wonder: how did homeopathy and its practitioners fare during this catastrophe? Could it be that gentle homeopathic medicines were capable of vanquishing such a formidable foe?
Searching for flu facts
My hometown has one of the country’s finest medical libraries—the University of Texas at San Antonio Health Science Center. There I spent many hours, first out of curiosity sparked by this single newspaper article, and finally in research which showed overwhelmingly that the allopathic medical community during that horrific scourge was totally paralyzed and wholly ineffective when faced with the most fearsome influenza pandemic in modern history. In contrast, homeopathic hospitals, doctors, and practitioners were amazingly successful in coping with this deadly disease, as evidenced by their low mortality records compared with their allopathic colleagues. For example, I learned that according to reports gathered by the American Institute of Homeopathy in 1921, the death rate among 24,000 patients treated conventionally for the flu was 28.2%, whereas the death rate among 26,000 patients treated homeopathically for the flu was only 1.05%.
My research eventually resulted in the publication of the book, The Homeopathic Treatment of Influenza: Surviving Influenza Epidemics and Pandemics, Past, Present and Future with Homeopathy, in 1999. In addition to discussing 68 homeopathic remedies that practitioners have historically used to treat influenza successfully, the book recounts the first appearance in 1997 of the H5N1 virus—the so-called Bird Flu, and the near panic it caused among the world’s influenza virology scientists. Now, almost eight years later, we find ourselves facing the possibility of a Bird Flu pandemic equal to, or worse than, the infamous Spanish Flu of 1918, which begs the question—how can we protect ourselves?
Knowledge is power
There is a saying: “Know thine enemy,” and if ever there was an enemy we should know, especially from a homeopathic standpoint, it’s this one. Influenza ranks among the world’s deadliest viruses. It is also, despite years of research, one of the least understood. The influenza virus is so fragile that you can totally destroy it with mere soap and water. It is so tiny that 60,000 of these viruses would fit on the point of your ballpoint pen. Touch a doorknob where someone has just deposited thousands of them, then touch your nose and these microscopic villains can enter your nasal passages, find their way into your throat and lungs and knock you completely off your feet—possibly even kill you.
How has medical science allowed this viral bandit to keep getting away with death and disease for so many years? It is simply because influenza defies all efforts to be vanquished. The virus can mutate and change its genetic makeup endlessly, blocking and counter-blocking every medical barrier thrown against it. About every two years, it seems to alter its genetic makeup slightly in what is known as an “antigenic drift.” These minor changes typically cause only localized flu epidemics, but they result in constant headaches for flu vaccine manufacturers.
Every 10 to 30 years, however, the flu virus historically undergoes radical changes—an “antigenic shift”—in which it is altered so completely that most of the world’s population has no immunity to it, and current vaccines are ineffective. The result may be a worldwide influenza epidemic—a pandemic. The last such pandemics were the Asian Flu of 1957 and the Hong Kong Flu of 1968, with worldwide death tolls of approximately 1 million and 750,000, respectively.
Sometimes, however, a viral strain develops that is so deadly that it is known as a “super-virus.” The Spanish Flu was such a super-virus—it killed from 22 to 100 million people worldwide (estimates vary), often striking down young, otherwise healthy people in less than 48 hours. Virologists believe the current Bird Flu has the potential to become the long overdue next super-virus.
How could this happen?
What makes the H5N1 avian virus different from other influenza viruses, and how could it become a super-virus? Scientists have known for years that all influenza viruses originate in the world’s migrating wild water fowl—ducks, geese, cranes, etc. These avian viruses get passed on to other domestic fowl, such as chickens and turkeys, often resulting in great loss to poultry farmers. Avian viruses also routinely infect other animals, such as pigs; after swapping genetic material with the pig, the viruses may then easily pass to humans. All influenza viruses that cause yearly human flu epidemics are the result of this bird-to-pig genetic mutation. It has always been firmly believed that it was impossible for an avian virus to skip this intermediate pig step, cross the species barrier, and jump directly to humans—that is, until 1997, when the unthinkable happened.
In September 1997, an article in the journal Science reported: “This summer, a flu strain known as Type A H5N1, which is unlike any that has infected humans before, appears to have jumped directly from birds to a human, killing a Hong Kong boy. ‘It’s a significant event,’ says Robert Webster, an influenza specialist. ‘How many people have immunity to H5? Zippo. And if it was transmitted to other humans, that would be scary.’”
In the eight years since then, the H5N1 bird flu virus has resulted in the destruction of millions of the world’s fowl population and in the deaths of fewer than one hundred people, all in Southeast Asia. So far, the virus appears to have passed from birds to humans via bird blood, feces, or other close bird-to-human contact—not from person to person. But as the virus spreads around the world on the wings of migrating birds, the risk increases. All it would take is for one person to contract the Bird Flu and a human-type flu at the same time; these two viral types could exchange enough genetic material to mutate into a virus that could pass easily from human to human.
At present, officials tells us that the H5N1 Bird Flu has a 50% mortality rate, meaning that it kills 1 out of every 2 people it infects. By comparison, the 1918 Spanish Flu had only a 5% mortality rate, yet it killed between 50 and 100 million people worldwide! If a pandemic with even a 5% mortality rate were to strike today, 380 million people worldwide would die. Hospitals would be overwhelmed. Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease at the Department of Health and Human Services warns, “Effectively, the world will shut down, as if the whole world got hit with a blizzard. The global economy will shut down. With Katrina, 47 states came to the aid of Louisiana. With this pandemic, every state will be on its own. Every county will be on its own. Every city will be on its own.” Just imagine a disaster like Katrina happening in all 50 states at the exact same time!
Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt admitted on national television that if we were hit with an influenza super-virus today, it would take anywhere from 6 to 9 months to make a vaccine for even half of the U.S. population. He also said that there was only enough of the media-touted anti-viral drug upon which many are pinning their hopes, Tamiflu®, for about half the population. Furthermore, other news reports warn that the Bird Flu virus could easily become resistant to Tamiflu®; one such resistant case has already been reported.
What’s a homeopath to do?
Faced with such dire predictions, what should we in the international homeopathic community do? There are, of course, two extreme reactions—complacence and white-knuckle panic. We would be wise to succumb to neither. There is ample historical evidence that homeopathy can be depended upon to rise to the challenge, as it so brilliantly did in 1918. There was absolutely no warning 87 years ago when the Spanish Flu hit. We at least have some idea of what to expect now; and we know that the H5N1 avian virus is similar, if not exactly a match for the Spanish Flu virus. Therefore, we have a good idea of what the symptom picture may look like.
Even the Spanish Flu began as ordinary flu, with fever and aches and pains. Therefore, make sure you have on hand the top traditional homeopathic flu remedies like Arsenicum album, Baptisia, Bryonia, Eupatorium perfoliatum, Gelsemium, Influenzinum, Phosphorus, and Rhus tox—as well as Oscillococcinum®, which may prove to be one of the most significant remedies for this flu due to its source.
Unlike ordinary flu, however, symptoms of the Spanish Flu developed very rapidly—often within a matter of hours—into a much more serious and deadly lung infection. According to reports so far, Bird Flu symptoms also seem to center on the lower respiratory tract, with a rapid lung infection and difficult breathing. Therefore, if these symptoms appear, treatment should not be delayed.
If extremely serious pneumonia-like symptoms develop as during the Spanish Flu, other homeopathic remedies may be called for. In 1918, patients quickly became cyanotic—with a bluish-black skin discoloration of the face and extremities, as the lungs, desperate for air, robbed oxygen from blood vessels. This situation, should it develop, may call for remedies such as Arsenicum, Carbo veg, Ipecacuanha, Lachesis, or Veratrum album.
During the 1918 pandemic, severe lung obstruction often caused patients to cough or vomit blood or even spurt blood from the nose. Such a situation might call for Arnica, Carbo veg, Drosera, Ferrum phos, Ipecacuanha, Phosphorus, or Stannum. If bleeding from every orifice should occur as it did for Spanish Flu victims, homeopaths might consider the homeopathic remedies derived from snake venoms such as Crotalus horridus, Elaps, Lachesis, and Naja.
More information can be found in the Special Bird Flu edition of The Homeopathic Treatment of Influenza, which includes a six page, step-by-step model with graphs on how to locate the indicated homeopathic remedy, along with a 48-page account of the developing threat of the H5N1 avian virus.
Use the NCH Flu Tracker
I would like to take this opportunity to urge all practicing homeopaths to contribute time and attention to the NCH Flu Tracker tool on the NCH website, www.homeopathic.org. In a “worst case scenario” this lifeline may be the only reliable source of help for individuals and families. It would take only a few minutes to enter a quick run-down, mentioning which remedies are acting in your area and with your patients, along with the major guiding symptoms, and especially cases where an unusual remedy has acted. If this website is well supported in such a crisis, the genus epidemicus group of remedies—those remedies specific to that season’s flu—will become quickly apparent and could well help to save many lives.
*Two major research studies have also demonstrated statistically significant results for Oscillococcinum® in early stages of flu: • J.P. Ferley, et al., “A Controlled Evaluation of a Homeopathic Preparation in the Treatment of Influenza-like Syndrome,” British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, March 1989 • R. Papp, et al., “Oscillococcinum in Patients with Influenza-like Syndromes: A Placebo-Controlled Double-Blind Evaluation,” British Homeopathic Journal, April 1998.
Note: Some homeopaths have suggested that Tuberculinum aviare is a remedy that could be especially useful in a potential Bird Flu epidemic because of its source (chicken tuberculosis) and clinical indications (lung symptoms). Since an epidemic has not occurred, however, this is just conjecture.—Ed.
About the Author:
Sandra Perko, a practicing homeopath and clinical nutritionist, was the founder, director, and senior staff instructor of the South Texas Center for Classical Homeopathy and Nutrition in San Antonio, Texas, until 1999. She has just released the second edition of her book, The Homeopathic Treatment of Influenza, Surviving Influenza Epidemics and Pandemics, Past, Present and Future with Homeopathy—Special Bird Flu Edition. She is the author of Homeopathy for the Modern Pregnant Woman and Her Infant. Sandra is currently working on her third book, which will be published in the spring of 2006. She may be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or her website: www.benchmarkpubonline.com
The death rate among 24,000 patients treated conventionally for the flu during the great pandemic of 1918–1919 was 28.2%, whereas the death rate among 26,000 patients treated homeopathically for the flu was only 1.05%.
—Source: “Homeopathy in Influenza: A Chorus of Fifty in Harmony,” Journal of the
American Institute of Homeopathy, 1921.