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Pandemic Programs--Government Health 1918-Style

January 30, 2014
[caption id="attachment_6389" align="alignright" width="300"]Fort Riley soldiers in the Camp Funston flu hospital, 1918 Fort Riley soldiers in the Camp Funston flu hospital, 1918[/caption] This point came up in the Mises Academy "Interwar Years" course yesterday evening. One of the most significant background events of the First World War and the wake of the war was of course the Spanish Flu. We used to say that twenty million died worldwide, but recent studies are showing that at least fifty million died, and the death toll may have been double that. The origins of the disease are still obscure, but most experts (historical and medical) think that one of the great "concentrations" of human beings in less than hygienic settings first allowed for the virus to, well, go viral. The chief candidates are the huge American training camp at Fort Riley, Kansas, or the enormous British training/hospital depot at Etaples, France. Both of these masses of people was associated with birds and pigs, and triad that favors rapid transport and adaptation of viruses. So we are looking at a pandemic that was state-produced in any case. But a recent article by Dr. Karen Starko takes this even further. Her research has shown that the US Surgeon General, the US Navy, and eventually the Journal of the AMA announced in the midst of the crisis that extremely high does of aspirin were vital in treating the disease. Super-high doses.  But as Dr. Starko points out, since the Spanish Flu virus did its primary killing by compromising the the mucus membranes, and since overdoses of aspirin also compromise the mucus membranes, some portion of the enormous death toll was the result of the hyper-aspirin treatment. Read her full article --very articulate, very clear even for this "non-science major." I mean, essentially, the Flu Pandemic was the result of a government program (WWI), and a "helpful" state-sponsored solution to the problem beyond much doubt raised the death toll spectacularly. More than one lesson in all that!

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