the moth in the iron lung book review

Books I Like: The Moth in the Iron Lung

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Conventional wisdom holds that the polio vaccines developed by Jonas Salk in 1955 and improved by Albert Sabin in 1962 were responsible for the eradication of Polio in the US. Contrary arguments hold that improved sanitation could be both a causative (reduced exposure to pathogens leads to increased disease expression) and curative agent (reduced exposure to pathogens, reduces disease expression). What if neither is correct? Importantly, what if our conceptualization of poliomyelitis is not completely accurate?

The Moth and the Iron Lung by Forrest Maready, billed as a biography of polio, tells a completely different and entirely more nuanced story of polio than either of the two popular theories. He traces the origins of what we now call polio to the seemingly random cases of infant paralysis beginning in the early 1800s all the way through the epidemics of 1900s. At each juncture, it appears that what we came to identify as poliomyelitis was a result of a combination of poisons and pathogens. The poisons included mercury teething creams, mercury pesticides to control the spread of moths, followed by arsenic and then lead arsenate also for moths, sprayed liberally on foods and on animals. Then, mercury stabilized injections, and finally, DDT.  The pathogens were varied and not always identified but often included an enterovirus of some sort, along bacterial pathogens.

For most cases, the poisons weaken body barriers allowing the pathogen to plant itself in the nervous system. The most notable pattern was from the gut to the lower spine. In cases of bulbar polio, medical procedures, such as tonsillectomy and/or repeated mercury stabilized penicillin injections (used to prevent and/or treat polio) provided the route for pathogenic spread. Of course, all of this was made worse when the patient’s system was already weakened by excessive pesticide exposures. Each outbreak though is preceded by a clear escalation of the use of the poison de rigueur. Per this story, and perhaps per every epidemic, the pathogens are rarely the sole perpetrators of the disease. They are always aided, if not fully instigated, by our own chemical machinations.

As far as the vaccines reportedly responsible for the demise of the polio epidemic, well you’ll just have to read the book. The story Maready tells, fits neither the conventional nor the contrary assertions but it does seem to fit the actual reports and data more closely. I highly recommend this book and if you buy this book from the link below, we get a few dollars to support the website.

The Moth in the Iron Lung: A Biography of Polio

710 customer reviews

The Moth in the Iron Lung: A Biography of Polio*

by Forrest Maready

A fascinating account of the world’s most famous disease—polio—told as you have never heard it before. Epidemics of paralysis began to rage in the early 1900s, seemingly out of nowhere. Doctors, parents, and health officials were at a loss to explain why this formerly unheard of disease began paralyzing so many children—usually starting in their legs, sometimes moving up through their abdomen and arms. For an unfortunate few, it could paralyze the muscles that allowed them to breathe.Why did this disease start to become such a horrible problem during the late 1800s? Why did it affect children more often than adults? Why was it originally called teething paralysis by mothers and their doctors? Why were animals so often paralyzed during the early epidemics when it was later discovered most animals could not become infected? The Moth in the Iron Lung is a fascinating biography of this horrible paralytic disease, where it came from, and why it disappeared in the 1950s. If you’ve never explored the polio story beyond the tales of crippled children and iron lungs, this book will be sure to surprise.

 Price: $ 16.99

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Last updated on January 4, 2024 at 6:40 pm – Image source: Amazon Affiliate Program. All statements without guarantee.

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Chandler Marrs MS, MA, PhD spent the last dozen years in women’s health research with a focus on steroid neuroendocrinology and mental health. She has published and presented several articles on her findings. As a graduate student, she founded and directed the UNLV Maternal Health Lab, mentoring dozens of students while directing clinical and Internet-based research. Post graduate, she continued at UNLV as an adjunct faculty member, teaching advanced undergraduate psychopharmacology and health psychology (stress endocrinology). Dr. Marrs received her BA in philosophy from the University of Redlands; MS in Clinical Psychology from California Lutheran University; and, MA and PhD in Experimental Psychology/ Neuroendocrinology from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

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