The alarm bells are ringing louder over the increasing number of cases of sudden paralysis among children in the United States. But the predictable focus on germs by “disease hunters” is obscuring what surely must be a strong environmental component.
Last Sunday’s Los Angeles Times’ piece put the issue on the mainstream media map,and another cluster of nine in Washington State this week – focusing on a six-year-old boy from Whatcom County – made the national news. (That child died.)
Here at AOA, which focuses on autism and other environmental, man-made threats to children’s health, we first called out this issue as urgent in early 2014 because it lined up eerily with work Mark Blaxill and I had done about the original paralysis-inducing epidemics of poliomyelitis. In 2011, we first proposed a new theory for those outbreaks – suggesting the poliovirus combined with novel manmade toxins, most notably the pesticide lead arsenate, to kick off the Age of Polio. The ideas is simple: Toxin plus microbe = polio outbreaks. Without the toxin, polio is a minor, often unnoticed infection. With it, the virus can gain access to the nervous system and cause polio's dreaded effects.
So when this new outbreak of polio-like paralysis among children arose in California, we looked into it. We interviewed the mother of a child, Sofia Jarvis, who developed a paralyzed arm, and we came up with a possible pesticide connection. Here’s a screen grab from a story Mark and I wrote in April 2014.
Now it pays to be humble in the face of a new illness. There was a lot going on in this cluster of early cases, which spread from California and Colorado to Illinois and across the country before seeming to fade out last year (it’s back now on a scary cycle that also recalls the periodicity of polio). Some of those patients two years ago tested positive for EV-68, a virus in the same enterovirus family as polio, but others didn’t, and a conclusive link between the infection and the neurological damage couldn't be made in any case.
Sofia had been hospitalized and gotten an IV antibiotic in the same arm that became paralyzed, which is similar to the “provocation polio” caused by needle sticks that allowed the virus to travel, through a process called “reversal axonal transport,” to the anterior horn cells at the top of the spinal column that control movement. (It was upon hearing about this phenomenon while we worked on our 2010 book “The Age of Autism” that Mark and I looked deeper at polio. It seemed to mimic a process we were investigating involving the combination of syphilis and mercury treatment triggering the worst form of that disease, general paralysis of the insane. Note paralysis.)
We were the first to report last month that the CDC was informing state health departments of a new wave of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) cases starting this summer, and we again put forward our idea that the environment, probably in the form of pesticides but whatever the case something besides a microbe, was involved. (Some of our readers will suspect vaccines, which is also certainly plausible.) AFM is basically medical code for WTF?, since it does not describe an infection but a condition. It's like calling poliomyelitis infantile paralysis, the term it went by before anyone figure out what was going on.
It's the same old story: The mainstream – in medicine, in big media, in the government – seems resistant to the point of oblivion to the idea that the environment, especially manmade chemicals and medical interventions, especially ones they create and promote, could have anything to do with human health. It is after all the Centers for Disease Control that takes the lead and tracks the numbers in these things, and we know from close experience – autism – that they can’t (or won’t) get their mind around the idea of environmentally induced epidemics, especially not when they get money from epidemic-deniers and make their living studying the creepy-crawly end of the disease-causing spectrum. The idea that some dumb manmade chemical like a pesticide (or thimerosal) could tip the body's exquisite but delicate balance into a new epidemic of illness just does not compute. They seem to forget that something is new here; new means novel, and novel implies either some mutating or new virus, or a toxin that wasn't there before in the way it is now.
So when EV-68 starts to look dubious as “the cause,” they widen their aperture just enough to fit in every other germ known to mankind (but not manmade chemicals like lead arsenate or DDT or the new generation that appears to be killing bees wholesale, and maybe bats, and maybe now children). That reliable CDC downspout The Huffington Post (which after years of being friendly to the vaccine-autism concept got bought up and out by AOL and now Verizon and promptly shut up) reported this week under the headline “A Mysterious Neurological Condition Is Paralyzing Children”:
“One alarming complication is that AFM appears to be triggered by common viruses.” Oh, so now it’s viruses, plural. “Experts aren’t sure what causes AFM, as scientists haven’t been able to consistently isolate a germ in a patient’s spinal fluid that could explain what triggered the condition.”
A germ – it must be a germ. That is the box outside of which we will not get as long as those inside the germ paradigm are running the show. And since they can’t find a germ it must be any number of germs, none of which, as far as I know, has been implicated in any way but hey, let’s toss ‘em out there: “They have found that it appears to be triggered by a variety of diseases, including viral infections like West Nile virus, Japanese encephalitis virus, the virus that causes polio and those that can cause the common cold, pneumonia, bladder infection or gastroenteritis.”
Well there’s a greasy nothingburger of causation gibberish if I’ve ever tasted one. First of all why weren't these things triggering mayhem five years ago? We have a truly scary and rising epidemic of childhood paralysis under way and the CDC has no idea what’s happening. Hey, it could be EV-68, or any other viral infection like West Nile, or Japanese encephalitis, or polio, or the common cold, or a bladder infection, or a stomach bug. Anything the CDC is in charge of figuring it out, and nothing it’s not.
The HuffPo story is written by someone passingly familiar with medical issues, someone obviously not suited to push this story forward rather than stenographically repeat the CDC, containing half-somnambulant statements like this:
“It’s important to note that despite the spike in case reports, the condition is still exceedingly rare; less than one in one million people in America will experience it.” And how in the heck do they know that less than one million people are going to experience this thing? The rate right now might be one in one million, but it is increasing, you dodoheads! That’s what dangerous diseases can do! And it is paralyzing kids. Quit worrying about the flu and start worrying about some new polio-like thing that is leaving children paralyzed for life from the nose down, and killing others outright.
There's always a chipper quality to these things. The LA Times made it into a mother's quest for answers, which is wonderful but needs a lot of help and not just cheerleading; HuffPo offered this: "Complicating matters is that doctors aren’t sure how to treat a child once acute flaccid myelitis is present." How do you sit at your laptop and write soulless dreck like that? The reality that a paralytic and sometimes fatal disease cannot be treated at all is not a complication, people! It's a nightmare.
I’m sticking with the pesticide idea, in part because it certainly hasn’t been looked at but most of all because of of our work on polio and our reporting on raspberries. Raspberries? In the recent Washington State outbreak, two children were from Whatcom County. Look it up – the place is an agricultural heartland stretching clear accord the northern tier of that state. According to Bellingham.org:
“With 140 miles of marine shoreline and 100,000 acres of highly productive farmland, Bellingham and Whatcom County, Washington are a fresh food haven stretching deliciously between the Salish Sea and snow-capped Mount Baker, near the U.S. – Canada border.
“Farm production in Whatcom County ranks in the top three percent of all counties in the United States. Whatcom County is also the nation’s largest producer of red raspberries, growing 60 percent of the U.S. crop, first in the nation for milk production per cow, and first out of 39 Washington state counties in overall dairy production.”
Being the “nation’s largest producer of red raspberries” gives me a hill because it reminds me of the story we ran more than two years ago now – see the raspberry photo above. Little Sofia ate raspberries the morning she started getting sick. Her mother told the doctors about it. But since Sofia didn’t have botulism, they discounted any connection. End of story, until this new one: The outbreak is at least partly in raspberry country, and the child who died lived a dozen miles or so from Lynden, Washington, home of the Northwest Raspberry Festival every July.
It’s not that raspberries cause paralysis or that these two facts prove causation. But it makes me want to keep looking. That small round buckyball sphere is just perfect for conveying more than its share of toxic agricultural chemical per mouthful. If you were to pick an advance warning system that our food might be awash in manmade impurities creating a terrifying new disease, a humble little raspberry might be an ideal contrivance. It has more surface area than Norway has shoreline and it is damnably hard to keep sterile. We wrote in 2014:
“Pesticide residue seems to us like a prime suspect. ‘Fruit is notoriously difficult to grow organically and without pesticides,' Jeff Moyer, farm director at the Rodale Institute, an organic research institution, is quoted as saying on the institute’s Web site. According to the institute, ‘Because most fruits have soft skins, the pesticides that are used to kill those bugs (and the molds and fungi that also love fruit) get into the flesh and into your mouth, and no amount of peeling or washing can remove them.’”
And you can’t peel a raspberry.
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism.