Stranger Than Fiction: Polio ‘Treatments’ in the 1900’s

There’s no doubt whatsoever that the polio epidemics of the early 20th century left a traumatic and lasting impression on the American psyche (and perhaps to a lesser extent, the Western psyche). Everybody seems to know somebody who was ‘crippled by polio’. The fear and devastation were very real indeed.

Others have written excellent, in-depth analyses on what caused sporadic cases to become widespread and disabling epidemics, but few have delved into the reality of medical care exacerbating the severity of poliomyelitis.

Below are some of the treatments you could expect, if stricken by paralysis in the early 1900’s:

  • Intramuscular injections of strychnine (which can cause paralysis and nerve damage – if it doesn’t kill you outright) [1].
  • Lumbar punctures, which can cause or exacerbate paralysis, and also precede respiratory problems (which would have been blamed on ‘bulbar’ polio) [1].
  • Intraspinal injections of adrenaline (almost half of the recipients died), human serum, or quinine and urea hydrochloride (3 of 6 children given this mixture orally and intramuscularly died). Even intraspinal injections of horse serum were tried [1].
  • Injections of tetanus antitoxin – the rationale being that “tetanus, rabies and poliomyelitis all attacked nerve cells, so perhaps giving the antitoxin would block access to absorption sites on the cells”. Even injections of diptheria antitoxin were tried, with 3 out of 5 patients dying [1].
  • Tendon cutting and transplantation [2].
  • Painful electrical treatments [2].
  • Radium water (After radium was discovered in 1898, it quickly gained popularity, proclaimed as a ‘cure-all’ elixir that could make one young again, and cure all kinds of ills and ails) [3].
  • Surgical Straightening: Dr. John Pohl, in an interview circa 1940, said “We’d take the children to the operating room in those days, straighten them out under anaesthetic, and put them in plaster casts. When they woke up, they screamed. The next day they still cried from the pain. That was the accepted and universal treatment virtually all over the world. I saw it in Boston and New York City and London” [4].
  • Even laypeople had their ‘cures’ and remedies, and some saw it as too good an opportunity to pass up. During the deadly 1916 epidemic, the New York Times reported that one Joseph Frooks had been charged with selling ‘Infantile Disease Protector’, which, upon investigation, was found to contain “a mixture of wood shavings” that were saturated in a mixture smelling remarkably like naphthalene [5].

It behoves us to ask…how many people were disabled or killed by polio – and how many by the so-called ‘treatments’ for polio?

References:

[1] Wyatt HV, Before the Vaccines: Medical Treatments of Acute Paralysis in the 1916 New York Epidemic of Poliomyelitis, The Open Microbiology Journal. 2014, 8:144-147.

[2] Paul JR. A History of poliomyelitis, Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut, 1971.

[3] Gould T, A Summer Plague: Polio and its Survivors, Yale University Press, 1997.

[4] Cohn V. Sister Kenny: The Woman Who Challenged the Doctors, University of Minnesota Press, 1975.

[5] Ibid See reference 3.

200+ Future Vaccines: Here’s A Glimpse of What to Expect

In 2013, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) proudly announced that American biopharmaceutical companies had 271 new vaccines in development [1].

“The 271 vaccines in development span a wide array of diseases, and employ exciting new scientific strategies and technologies. These potential vaccines – all in human clinical trials or under review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – include 137 for infectious diseases, 99 for cancer, 15 for allergies and 10 for neurological disorders”

Here’s a brief glimpse at what we can expect:

  1. A genetically-engineered nasal vaccine for obesity [2].
  2. A vaccine for malaria, using genetically-engineered parasites [3].
  3. A vaccine made from mouse cancer cells, for use in patients with colorectal cancer [4].
  4. A chimeric virus (two viruses genetically engineered/combined into one virus) vaccine for Japanese encephalitis [5].
  5. A genetically-engineered vaccine for Pseudomonas aeruginosa – apparently it is a major cause of hospital-acquired infections [6]. Note that they tested it on ventilated patients in an intensive care unit – as if they didn’t already have enough to deal with! In addition, vaccination made no difference whatsoever to rates of infection…but that didn’t stop them recommending further testing.
  6. A vaccine for Vigoo enterovirus 71…never heard of it, nevertheless, I’m sure they’ll be able to create a market for it [7].
  7. Plant-based oral vaccines for Type-1 diabetes [8].
  8. A vaccine made from genetically-engineered Listeria, for early-stage pancreatic cancer [9].
  9. Genetically-engineered papaya with an inbuilt vaccine for Taenia solium or T. crassiceps – a type of tapeworm found in pigs and humans [10].
  10. A vaccine for stress [11].

References:

[1] Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), Medicines in development: Vaccines, http://phrma.org/press-release/medicines-in-development-vaccines. Accessed February, 2017.

[2] Azegami T, Yuki Y, Sawada S, et al. Nano-gel based nasal ghrelin vaccine prevents obesity, Mucosal Immunol, 2017, epub ahead of print.

[3] Kublin JG, Mikolajczak SA, Sack BK, et al. Complete attenuation of genetically engineered plasmodium falciparum sporozoites in human subjects, Sci Transl Med, 2017, 9(371).

[4] Seledtsova GV, Shishkov GV, Kaschenko EA, Seledtsov VI. Xenogeneic cell-based vaccine therapy for colorectal cancer: safety, association of clinical effects with vaccine-induced immune responses, Biomed Pharmac, 2016, 83: 1247-1252.

[5] Kosalaraksa P, Watanaveeradej V, Pancharoen C, et al. Long-term immunogenicity of a single dose of japanese encephalitis chimeric virus vaccine in toddlers and booster response 5 years after primary immunization, Pediatry Infect Dis J, 2016, epub ahead of print.

[6] Rello J, Krenn CG, Locker G, et al. A randomized, placebo-controlled phase II study of a pseudomonas vaccine in ventilated ICU patients, Crit Care, 2017, 21(1): 22.

[7] Wei M, Meng F, Wang S, et al. 2-year efficacy, immunogenicity, and safety of Vigoo enterovirus 71 vaccine in healthy chinese children: a randomized, open-label study, J Infect Dis, 2017, 215(1): 56-63.

[8] Posgai AL, Wasserfall CH, Kwon KC, et al. Plant-based vaccines for oral delivery of type-1 diabetes-related auto-antigens: evaluating oral tolerance mechanisms and disease prevention in NOD mice, Sci Rep, 2017, 7: 42372.

[9] Keenan BP, Saenger Y, Kafrouni MI, et al. A listeria vaccine and depletion of T-regulatory cells activate immunity against early stage pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasms and prolong survival of mice, Gastroenterology, 2014, 146(7): 1784-1794.

[10] Fragoso C, Hernandez M, Cervantes-Torres J, et al. Transgenic papaya: a useful platform for oral vaccines, Planta, 2017, epub ahead of print.

[11] Elliot D. Preventing Mental Illness with a Stress Vaccine, The Atlantic, Nov 26, 2016.