Dismantling the Fact Checker's Claims about Polio
Polio was not caused by an "infectious" agent.
1. “Experts say toxic pesticide DDT not linked to polio”
The first “fact check” comes from AP News.
“CLAIM: Polio stopped spreading when the pesticide DDT stopped being used, not when vaccines for the virus were introduced.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Polio vaccines are credited with ending epidemics of the disease in the U.S., and helping curb most cases globally, several medical experts confirmed to The Associated Press. The disease and its side effects, including paralysis, have been widely demonstrated to be caused by the polio virus, not a pesticide, the experts said.
THE FACTS: Social media users are misidentifying the cause of the viral disease polio, suggesting that a toxic agricultural pesticide is linked to the illness while undermining the role that vaccines played in combating it.”
Classic appeal to authority.
“Polio vaccines (both injectable and orally-administered) are the singular reason for the decline in the incidence of paralytic polio both here in the United States and across the globe,” said Dr. Olakunle Alonge, a professor in the Department of International Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.”
There is no basis for this post hoc fallacy.
“The viral disease, which mostly affected children, was once one of the nation’s most feared diseases. It can be spread person to person through contaminated water and sometimes through respiratory droplets.”
Another baseless statement. There is no valid evidence that disease known as poliomyelitis is contagious and can be transmitted from a sick person to a healthy person. This idea has been refuted by numerous studies published in the scientific literature highlighting the non-contagiousness of polio. Even Albert Sabin stated that, “there is no evidence for the transmission of poliomyelitis by droplet nuclei.”
“Vaccines became available starting in 1955, and a national vaccination campaign cut the annual number of U.S. cases to fewer than 10 in the 1970s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 1979, polio was declared eliminated in the U.S., meaning there was no longer routine spread.
That’s because of the wide administration of vaccines to fight the disease, emphasized Rosemary Rochford, a professor of immunology and microbiology who is the co-director of the University of Colorado medical school’s climate and health program.”
This is misleading. The symptoms characteristic of polio did not disappear. They exist under various other labels and diagnoses.
“Polio the disease is caused by the polio virus,” Rochford wrote in an email to the AP. “DDT is a pesticide, so not clear how a pesticide could cause a viral infection.”
“There is no mechanism that I know of that would have a pesticide cause an outbreak of polio.” Dr. Walter A. Orenstein, an infectious diseases professor and associate director of Emory University’s vaccine center, also confirmed that polio virus is the established cause of the disease.”
Strawman arguments. No one is claiming that a pesticide would cause a so-called “viral infection.”
From the journal Archives of Pediatrics, year 1954:
“In 1952, there were nearly 58,000 cases diagnosed as poliomyelitis in the United States, 75 per cent of which were paralytic. Attempts to isolate the virus from the excretions were carried out in little more than one per cent. In the remaining 99 per cent, a virus was merely assumed to have been present. That the paralysis in this large group might have had many causes is obvious.”
Is is really that difficult to understand that a population exposed to neurotoxic agents with paralysis-causing properties can consequently experience problems with paralytic illness?
“Alonge said the “misinformation” might be linked to some research that showed DDT may be associated with neurological effects, including leg paralysis, among those chronically exposed to high levels of the toxin. However, Alonge clarified that the paralysis caused by polio and the paralysis potentially caused by the pesticide are distinct and caused by different mechanisms.”
“The epidemiology and pattern of such disease is different from paralytic polio,” he said.”
Here is what an eminent doctor had to say about the epidemiology of polio in 1938:
“On epidemiological grounds alone, it appears conceivable that poliomyelitis is not caused by a living micro-organism or a virus, but by a toxin.”
There is no “different mechanism,” since no hypothetical “infectious” agent has been experimentally shown to be able to cause the paralytic disease known as polio.
“Alonge pointed out that those affected by paralysis from chronic DDT exposure didn’t match up with the population most affected by polio, either. Complications from DDT mainly affect farm workers, he said, not children in the general population.”
Acute exposure resulting in paralytic symptoms would generally occur through the consumption of pesticide laden food and beverage. The consumption of pesticide laden products would obviously not be exclusive to farm workers. DDT was also not limited to agriculture; it was widely used by the general population aswell as other industries and sectors.
A cause-and-effect relation between exposure to insecticides and subsequent development of nerve damage is very difficult to prove even when strongly suspected.
It is also not surprising that polio was more common amongst children, since in 1951 the United States Public Health Service pointed out that, “children and infants especially are much more susceptible to [DDT] poisoning than adults.”
2. “Polio is caused by virus, not DDT”
The next one is from AFP Fact Check.
“But medical research on polio dates back at least to the 19th century and two Austrian scientists identified the cause as a virus in 1908, according to a Journal of Virology article by German virologist Hans Eggers. This predates the use of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), the first of the modern insecticides developed in the 1940s.”
Landsteiner and Popper did not identify a virus in 1908 (a tiny replication-competent obligate intracellular parasite, consisting of a genome and a proteinous coat).
They injected an unknown amount of emulsified spinal tissue into the stomachs of two monkeys. No control group was present, and no independent variable was established. Yet, they speculated that the pathological effects seen in the monkeys was solely the result of an unseen and unestablished hypothetical “infectious” agent, assumed to be present in the mixture which was injected.
Their conclusion is based on logically fallacious reasoning; hasty generalization, affirming the consequent fallacy and non-sequitur fallacy.
This time period obviously predates DDT. So what? This is a strawman argument. No one is claiming that DDT was responsible for all cases of poliomyelitis all throughout history.
Their article even features a post which mentions lead arsenate, a neurotoxic pesticide which was widely used before the introduction of DDT and other organochlorines.
“Vincent Racaniello, a Columbia University professor of microbiology and immunology who has studied polio for more than 40 years, agreed there is no connection with DDT.”
“The reduction of cases is entirely due to vaccination, DDT has nothing to do with poliovirus,” Racaniello told AFP.”
Yawn. Another strawman. DDT has obviously nothing to do with a fictional “virus.” It’s the etiology of the disease known as polio that is being questioned.
“Even if DDT were transmitted from mosquitoes to humans it would not have any impact on polio, he said, adding: “The poliovirus is transmitted from person to person, it is not transmitted by insects.”
Huh?? More straw men.
3. “DDT ban didn’t stop U.S. polio epidemic, vaccines did”
The third “fact check” is from PolitiFact.
“Polio predates DDT, which was first synthesized in 1874, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Polio has existed since prehistoric times, the World Health Organization says. The first known clinical description of polio dates back to 1789 and it was formally recognized as a disease in 1840.”
Yes, polio predates DDT, because DDT was not the first neurotoxic pesticide with paralysis-causing properties. Metallic poisons were widely used before DDT.
The idea that the disease called polio has existed in prehistoric times is largely based on this depiction of a man with a withered leg.
So what? The symptoms of polio are non-specific and can be caused by a multitude of factors. Seing a man with a delibity of the lower extremities says nothing about the cause of his debility.
“The disease is caused by the poliovirus, not DDT, and spreads through person-to-person contact.”
The claim that the disease can be transmitted through person-to-person has been thoroughly refuted by numerous studies published in the scientific literature.
The rest of the article is just argument by assertion nonsense.
4. “Fact check: Polio is caused by a virus, not pesticides”
Alright, let’s see what USA Today has to offer.
“Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, a Stanford University professor who studies global health, infectious diseases and epidemiology, said the notion that polio could be caused by DDT is wrong, flying in the face of more than a century of science and evidence.
“I can’t think of a scientific reason why anyone would think an environmental substance would cause this disease,” she said.”
Really? I will use this quote by Dr. Morton Biskind from 1953 as example:
“When the population is exposed to a chemical agent known to produce in animals lesions in the spinal cord resembling those in human polio, and thereafter the latter disease increases sharply in incidence and maintains its epidemic character year after year, is it unreasonable to suspect an etiologic relationship?”
Continuing the article:
“Several decades ago, researchers had identified medical conditions that could lead to paralytic syndromes that appeared similar to polio. They included spinal injuries, venom from certain spiders and snakes and poisoning with chemicals, including certain pesticides.
However, DDT, a compound used as an insecticide that was singled out in the post, is not linked to polio, let alone paralysis, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fact sheet.”
She links to a fact sheet by the CDC which briefly mentions 4 symptoms of DDT exposure, and makes the erroneous concludes that DDT can not cause the symptom in question (paralysis) because it was not listed. So according to her logic DDT is limited to only 4 symptoms.
However, in the CDC document entitled Special occupational hazard review for DDT we can read that: “One syndrome consists of…asymmetric weakness or paralysis.”
5. “Polio Elimination Due to Vaccination, Not End of Pesticide Use”
The last one is from FactCheck.org
“In the 1940s and 1950s, Americans were terrorized by the threat of polio. Every summer, the highly contagious viral disease caused outbreaks that killed or paralyzed people, most of them children.”
Polio was not a “highly contagious” disease, as demonstrated by countless of researchers.
“There is no evidence that pesticides such as DDT cause polio, or that discontinuing certain pesticides “ended” polio.
For one, polio existed well before DDT. DDT, or dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, wasn’t synthesized until 1874, but polio likely goes back at least several millennia to ancient Egypt.”
Yes, the non-specific symptoms of polio likely goes back at least several millennia, as noted Dr. Ralph R. Scobey in 1952:
“Paralysis, resulting from poisoning, has probably been known since the time of Hippocrates.”
No one is claiming that DDT was responsible for all cases of poliomyelitis all throughout history.
“Nor does the removal of DDT line up with polio’s descent, as our colleagues at Health Feedback noted when addressing similar claims in 2020.
“The peak year for use in the United States was 1959 when nearly 80 million pounds were applied,” the Environmental Protection Agency wrote of DDT in a 1972 press release announcing a ban on agricultural use of the chemical. “From that high point, usage declined steadily to about 13 million pounds in 1971, most of it applied to cotton.”
In 1959, polio had already begun its massive decline with the rollout of Salk’s vaccine. Even ignoring issues of biological plausibility, the timelines don’t match up.
Polio cases, as we said and have explained before, dropped only with the advent of vaccination.”
Yes, the peak usage of DDT was in 1959, as depicted on the graph below.
However, there was not a significant decrease of paralytic polio morbidity in the 1950’s, as demonstrated by this graph which shows what the incidence of paralytic polio would have been from 1951 through 1959 if the figures were corrected for the radical changes in diagnostic practices since the introduction of the Salk vaccine.
There was practically no difference in the incidence of paralytic polio from 1951 to 1959, as seen on the black bars.