Did Landsteiner and Popper really discover the poliovirus?

“Lead arsenate rapidly became the principal pesticide used on fruit and berries throughout the industrial world. In 1907 calcium arsenate was introduced for use primarily on cotton crops and in cotton mills. A year later 69 healthy children suddenly fell paralytically ill in Massachusetts. They lived in a town with three cotton mills, and in settlements downstream from those mills. Nearby there were also orchards on which lead arsenates were almost certainly in use. They were also living only a short distance downstream from the location of the Vermont outbreak.

A further epidemic in Massachusetts in 1908 caused enormous public concern, but, despite the evidence that exposure to toxins might have been responsible, the investigating health officials overlooked the newly introduced pesticides; they thought them essential to their war against viruses and bacteria – and to the financial health of the agricultural industry. Thus, the children paralysed in Massachusetts were not treated with toxin antidotes to see if these would benefit them. Instead, parents were advised to keep their children clean while the scientists, distracted by the then brand new theory that all epidemics had to be caused by infectious germs, looked for the virus ‘responsible’.

In 1908 two scientists working in Austria, Karl Landsteiner and Erwin Popper, reported that they might have found an ‘invisible virus’ that had caused these epidemics [of infantile paralysis]. They had made their discovery, they claimed, after making a suspension in water of minced diseased spinal cord from a nine-year-old victim of infantile paralysis. They had tested this noxious suspension by injecting one or two cups of it directly into the brains of two monkeys. The monkeys fell severely ill (as might have been predicted). One died and the other had its legs paralysed. The scientists then dissected the monkeys and found damage in their central nervous tissues similar to that found in human cases of infantile paralysis.

Today the World Health Organisation (WHO) still credits Landsteiner and Popper as having found the poliovirus with this experiment. Why it does so is inexplicable. The fluid they injected must have contained much human cellular debris, any toxins involved in the child’s illness, and probably several kinds of viruses. So, it was no wonder the monkeys fell so desperately ill. Such a soup could in no way be considered an ‘isolate’ of the tiny organism we now call a virus. It was also strangely non-infectious for a so-called virus, for the monkeys were not paralysed when made to drink it or when one of their limbs was injected with it, nor did they pass it on to other monkeys. The experiment, in fact, shed no light on what had paralysed the monkeys, and for that matter, the children.

Nevertheless, the following year Simon Flexner and Paul Lewis of the illustrious Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in the US ‘proved’ a similarly made noxious soup was ‘infectious’ by injecting it into the brain of one monkey. They then extracted some fluid from its brain, injected this into another monkey, and so on through a series of monkeys, paralysing all of them in the process. Flexner and Lewis reported: ‘We failed utterly to discover bacteria… that could account for the disease [paralysis]… The infecting agent of epidemic poliomyelitis [probably] belongs to the class of the minute and filterable viruses that have not thus far been demonstrated with certainty under the microscope.’

In other words, we’ve injected a cocktail of viruses, cellular debris and DNA into a series of monkeys, and we believe that a virus, not yet identified within this noxious cocktail, is responsible! The procedure of Flexner and Lewis was just as dubious as their conclusion: they took no account of the contaminants in their mashed-up soup; they presumed what happened in monkeys would be replicated in humans; and surprisingly, given the evidence around at the time, they didn’t inject samples of cyanide or lead into the brains of monkeys to see if they also caused paralysis. In 1910 neonatologist L Emmett Holt reported: ‘Even five years ago if anyone had suggested that the disease under discussion was an infectious or contagious one, it would have been looked upon as a joke.’

Nevertheless, this crude science inspired a 40-year hunt for the infantile paralysis virus. All kinds of biological materials – spinal cord, brain, faecal matter, even flies – were ground up and injected into monkeys’ brains to try to induce paralysis.”

— Janine Roberts, investigative journalist


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