Read Dan and Mark's posts earlier this week:
Child in “Polio-like Cluster” Linked to California’s Winemaking Industry and
By Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill
One of the California children with “polio-like” symptoms ate raspberries right before she got sick, her mother said Wednesday -- but that didn't seem to set off any alarm bells about pesticide residue from the medical experts investigating the baffling outbreak.
“She was wheezing, then she had lunch with raspberries and then we went to [the] pediatrician's office where they said she sounded like asthma,” Jessica Tomei said in an email, describing the symptoms her daughter, Sofia Jarvis, experienced in November 2012.
“On the way home she threw up. The next day we were in the hospital. 5 days later her arm was paralyzed. I kept mentioning the raspberries but botulism was ruled out.”
Doctors and public health officials have focused on microbes in their hunt for the cause of the cluster, which so far comprises five children in the San Francisco Bay area and a reported 20 more throughout the state. The five cases occurred between August 2012 and July 2013. Officials said a rare enterovirus – a stomach bug – was detected in two of the cases.
But given Jessica Tomei’s account, 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.”
We reported Wednesday morning that Sofia’s parents, Jessica Tomei and Jeff Jarvis, are professional winemakers, but her mother was dubious of a chemical connection via that route. On Wednesday, she mentioned the raspberries as a likelier source of pesticide.
“She had raspberries the morning of her illness -- they ruled out botulism. If what you are saying is true, perhaps the raspberries played a part. I believe more chemicals are used in that type of agriculture vs. vineyard. Interesting thoughts.”
In our 2011 series, The Age of Polio – How an Old Virus and New Toxins Triggered a Man-made Epidemic, we proposed that beginning in the late 1800s, the poliovirus – for millennia a harmless enterovirus – was rendered dangerous by its interaction with the new agricultural pesticide lead arsenate. Our theory: the pesticide caused damage that allowed the virus to penetrate the nervous system and reach the spinal cord, where it caused the paralysis called poliomyelitis.
Among the earliest poliomyelitis outbreaks were three California clusters – in the agricultural epicenter of the San Joaquin Valley; the San Francisco area; and San Francisco and the wine-growing Napa Valley. We believe those locales point to intensive commercial farming and early use of lead arsenate in fruits and vegetables. When DDT came along after World War II, the epidemics exploded on an even larger scale, until the development of the vaccine in the 1950s wiped out the virus.
Jessica Tomei’s account brings potential pesticide exposure directly to one of the five children in the cluster, the day her symptoms began. The fact that Sofia was “wheezing first, but slightly,” according to her mother, might mean she was coming down with a virus. Doctors said two of the five children showed exposure to Enterovirus 68. (Polio is also an enterovirus.) All had evidence of spinal damage on scans.
There’s no evidence Sofia had contracted Enterovirus 68. More likely, a simple upper-respiratory virus provoked her wheezing.
The amount of pesticide used to create commercial fruit crops is eye-popping – 589,806 pounds on raspberries alone in California in 2009, the latest figures available from the Pesticide Action Network’s database.
Our theory and the link to California agriculture raises the disturbing possibility that while a vaccine wiped out poliomyelitis, there’s no shortage of other viruses and pesticides capable of coming together to cause the same havoc.
Another possibility: a scenario called “provocation paralysis.” During the polio era, before a vaccine wiped out the virus in most countries, children sometimes suffered paralysis if they had an active polio infection and got a needle stick – for a vaccine, antibiotic, or IV, for example. It was provocation polio, in fact, that led us to our theory involving pesticides, since there could be more than one way of creating an opening to the nervous system for a viral invader.
In a press conference earlier this week, Jessica Tomei described the progression of symptoms and said that Sofia got an IV while she was hospitalized.
According to ABC World News, “After treatment by her pediatrician didn't help, Sofia spent four days in the hospital, but her breathing was still not completely clear.
“Her doctor suspected it might be pneumonia and gave her an antibiotic, but as the family was leaving the doctor's office the little girl reached her left hand out for a toy, and, her mother said, ‘mid-grasp her left hand dropped.’
“Jessica Tomei said she thought her daughter's arm was hurting because that was where he had an IV, but three days later she still was not using her arm.”
A 1995 New England Journal of Medicine article looked at the fact that paralytic poliomyelitis was 5 to 17 times higher in Romania than in other countries and concluded that frequent injections in children who had recently gotten a live-virus polio vaccine was the reason. “Provocation paralysis … may rarely occur in a child who receives multiple intramuscular injections shortly after exposure to oral poliovirus vaccine, either as a vaccine recipient or through contact with a recent recipient.”
In the United States, a killed virus is used in the polio vaccine, so speculation that the vaccine itself triggered any of the California cases appears implausible.
Dan Olmsted is Editor and Mark Blaxill is Editor at Large of Age of Autism. They are co-authors of the book The Age of Autism – Mercury, Medicine, and a Man-made Epidemic.