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Influenza 1918, A Venus Connection?


Keywords and phrases
Astrobiology, exobiology, Influenza, Life on Venus


A summary of a large part of the material in these pages was given as Poster 32.12 at the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences meeting in Birmingham, AL, U.S.A., 6-11 Oct 2002. Click here to see an HTML version of the presentation.

Installed on 20 Jan 2000 - Latest update 18 Jul 2012
Additions or changes to text are in bold.
Copyright © 2001- 2012 Robert S. Fritzius

The following three quotes are extracted from various parts of the WGBH | PBS Online American Experience webpage that is devoted to the unexplained, and, until recently, largely unheralded, 1918 influenza pandemic.


"Influenza 1918 is the story of the worst epidemic the United States has ever known. Before it was over, the flu would kill more than 600,000 Americans--more than all the combat deaths of this century combined."

"The recently released "National Standards for United States History" published by the National Center for History in the Schools does not include any mention of the 1918 flu epidemic."

"For the survivors we spoke to," says producer Robert Kenner, "the memory is one of horror and fear--which may explain why many Americans were willing to let those few terrible months fade into obscurity. Schoolchildren know more about the Black Plague from centuries ago than they do about this episode in our recent history."


These last two quotes reminds one of Velikovsky's ideas on mankind's tendency to amnesia regarding really catastrophic events over which we have no control.

For later developments, see: Revisiting the 1918 flu.

Donald Barber's article "Invasion by Washing Water."(1)

This (1963) article describes a peculiar sequence of air-borne/rain-water-borne yeast-like bacterial attacks on astronomical photographic plate emulsions at a British observatory from 1937 to 1961. An underlying periodicity of these events appears to have had a significant positive correlation with the occurrences of inferior conjunctions of Venus with the Sun.

1918-1.gif
In the article, Barber said:

"An American suggestion that the virus responsible for endemic influenza emanated from the planet Venus, led to a fresh examination of the 1937/1948 Sidmouth data, and also to a search among the large collection of spectrograms obtained at Sidmouth prior to 1937 for earlier evidence of bacterial attack. As a result of the latter, two earlier outbreaks--one probable event in 1930, and a second well-determined occasion in 1932-- were discovered."

Note: Compared to Earth, Venus, has a negligible magnetic field. That means that the Solar Wind can disturb its atmosphere directly, and can blow away fractions of it's upper atmosphere (including airborne particulate matter) in comet-like fashion. (Added 15 February 2003.)

It was found that the onsets of six confirmed Lockyer major microbial invasions occurred, on average, 55 days following strong geomagnetic storms (time-wise) nearest to inferior conjunctions of Venus with the Sun. (The shortest interval between geomagnetic storm and outbreak was 35 days and the longest was 67 days.) Seasonal effects also appeared to play an auxiliary role also as to whether or not an invasion occurred. Invasion onsets occurred only during the months May thru July.) [Paragraph was corrected and modified on 13 May 2008.]

Barber speculated that the bacteria responsible for the repeated photographic damage events were transported from the upper atmosphere of Venus by solar wind to earth's polar regions and, in Lockyer's case, from the Northern polar region to England by north-westerly winds, reaching the ground in rain-water. 1918-2.gif

The Lockyer events were bacterial in nature but, getting back to the "American suggestion," it is of interest to note that in 1918 an inferior conjunction of Venus with the Sun occurred on about February 9th. The first reported case of the 1918-1919 influenza outbreak in the United States (at Camp Funston) was 30 days later.

We should be wary of implying a cause and effect relation here, but it is also of interest that the early onset of the pandemic appears to have hit in shotgun fashion across the United States. The following quote is from the poignant article, Monessen and the Spanish Influenza of 1918, by Cassandra Vivian of Pennsylvania. (Link no longer works.)

"On March 11, 1918, the first case of this flu was reported at Camp Funston, Kansas. By noon, 107 cases were reported at the same camp and two days later 522 cases were reported. This fast moving, air borne disease was in every state of the union within seven days."

In light of a recent study, (See next paragraph.) the first sentence of the preceding paragraph should perhaps be stated as, "At Camp Funston, Kansas, the first case of this flu was reported on March 11, 1918." [Added 20 Dec 2005.]

According to a recent study(2), the 1918 influenza pandemic originated in Haskell County, Kansas in January-February 1918 and was carried from there to Camp Funston by army recruits along with their family members and friends. How the new disease came to appear in Haskell County was not addressed, but the the researchers stressed that no evidence was found to suggest any other point of origin. The public health issue of primary concern was that new influenza strains can "pop up" (or "drop in," from this writer's viewpoint) any where in the world. [Added 22 Nov 2005. Modified 20 Dec 2005.]

If the Camp Funston locale in Kansas was the approximate geographical origin for the initial outbreak in the United States (whatever its source), it is difficult to imagine how such a rapid widespread distribution (all 48 states in seven days) could have occurred by means of prevailing winds or personnel transfers. I suggest that fast moving may not be the proper label for the event.

I may have been premature in this judgment. See the NASA links a few paragraphs below.

There are other versions of where and when the 1918-1919 flu originated. For one such report suggesting an Asian source in 1917 see: The Spanish Flu. [Was at "http://meme.essortment.com/spanishflu_reiz.htm" - Link no longer works.] The author of that article presented the idea that the disease was brought to the United States by servicemen returning from Europe in the fall of 1918.

Actually there seems to be evidence for a global outbreak in this case. (This idea, of course, hinges on the supposition that there must have been some viral commonality among some far flung outbreaks.)

The PBS Peoples and Discoveries webpage Worldwide flu pandemic strikes: 1918-1919 says that in the late spring of 1918 the Spanish wire service Agencia Fabra sent cables to Reuters headquarters describing "A strange form of disease of epidemic character in Madrid," . . ."The epidemic is of a mild nature, no deaths having been reported." (Symptoms are described.) The article goes on to mention seemingly similar outbreaks from, "Norway to India, China to Costa Rica."

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In her book on the 1918 influenza(3) Gina Kolata also calls attention to the often repeated phenomenon of how epidemics can move quickly through a country, "hopscotching over some towns while felling others." (p. 63) She reports that "After an influenza pandemic of 1789, a young American doctor named Robert Johnson puzzled over how the infection could spread so far and wide, and so quickly" (p. 63) Johnson discussed the rapid outbreaks in Great Britain and on ships at sea. Kolata reports that the 1918 "flu's mortality rates peaked in Boston and Bombay in the same week. But New York, just a few hours from Boston, had its peak three weeks later" (p. 62) She reports that Johnson finally decided that "influenza must arise from some sort of changes in the atmosphere (aerobiology) but that, once it got started, it could spread from person to person."(pp. 63-64)

This NASA news item, All the World's a Stage...for Dust, published on June 26, 2001, may have a bearing on Johnson's quandry.

The rapid 1918 U.S. coverage may be explainable by dust storm delivery. See: NASA's The Pacific Dust Express. This possibility is touched on in more detail in the Global Developments: Spring-Summer 2001 section of this article.

Johnson's atmospheric change idea may have contributed to the "American suggestion" about an extraterrestrial source for influenza, to which Barber refers. (I don't have a source on this yet. Comments/inputs are welcome.)

In 1907 S. Arrhenius, Scientific American 96:196, argued for direct propagation of life between planets by microbes hurled into near-planet space by storms, then propelled by radiation pressure. (No comets or meteorites required.) See: Possibility of Arrival of Living Organisms from Space Net Advance of Physics: Annotated Bibliographies, No. 1: Panspermia Theories Section III, 1996.

In the article Influenza From Space? Sir Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe carry on a dialog with critics about comet tail delivery systems for extraterrestrial biological visitors. This would be consistent with the idea of panspermia, or life from outer space. These researchers found evidence which suggests that influenza (at least in the beginning of a given flu season) breaks out in a sporadic manner, but doesn't spread easily. This is not unlike Kolata's reported "hopscotching" effect. [Link removed to no longer existent page. 19 Jan 2007]

Though not visible to the naked eye, the planet Venus has a comet-like tail that solar system scientists have been studying for years to gain improved insights into the nature of comets. (Most of this information is in hard copy and I don't currently have any references.) In their extensive on-line reprint of an article titled The Interaction of the Solar Wind with Venus C. T. Russell and O. Vaisberg suggest that "On the whole, the solar wind interaction with Venus is more comet-like than Earth-like."

Barber reported "Following the 1937 outbreak, [at Lockyer Observatory] water samples were sent to the bacteriological department of the Seale-Hayne College, Newton Abbot, and tissue cultures were obtained. It was, however, found to be impossible to match these with any known strains of indigenous liquefying bacteria. The result was later independently confirmed by tests carried out at the Lister Institute."

Since the proximate cause of death in the 1918-1919 pandemic was usually drowning brought on by what amounted to liquified lungs {air sacs riddled with seepage sites (Kolata, p. 27)} it might be of interest to check for relations between the findings of the Seale-Hayne College and Lister Institute studies (of the Lockyer liquifying agents) to any biological thugs preserved in the pandemic autopsy tissues.

Everything discussed up to this point may be academic if Venus does not provide a suitable environment to nurture (or to allow the generation of) life forms, whether they be viral or bacterial. {Velikovsky(4) leaned toward more robust life-forms than these.}

Looking at the viral aspect of the problem, it is generally held that influenza viruses need a dry environment to stay alive until they reach their hosts. Venus's upper atmosphere has been found to be extremely dry; so that door seems to stay open. The genes in viruses are generally comprised of RNA. A theory, according to Frank Shu(5), regarding the creation of life from inanimate matter requires the "creation of small organic molecules in a reducing (non-oxidizing) atmosphere via energetic natural phenomena: lightning strokes, the penetration of ultraviolet light, etc."

Venus has the reducing atmosphere but very little Earth-like lightning has been detected to date. The Venera 11-14 and Pioneer Venus probes found very-low-frequency radio emissions (whistlers) which were thought to be associated with low altitude lightning, but a search for lighting on Venus in 1998 and 1999 using NASA's Cassini spacecraft did not detect high-frequency (static-like) radio wave evidence of lighting. On the other hand, the outer portion of Venus's atmosphere is richly bombarded with solar ultraviolet energy which can break down molecular bonds to produce the bits and pieces that form tougher molecules.. (As a side-bar, I suggest that since Venus has a very weak intrinsic magnetic field, charged particles in the solar wind and cosmic rays plowing into its upper mid latitudes atmosphere might constitute viable lightning substitutes for chemical mixing purposes.)

Shu goes on to say, ". . . experiments carried out by Cyril Ponnamperuma and Carl Sagan, shining ultraviolet light on a dilute solution of adenine, ribose, and phosphoric acid, yielded large amounts of ATP. Presumably, the same process which joins the adenine to ribose to three phosphates to give ATP could join any of the three other bases, guaine, cytosine, and uracil, to ribose and three phosphates to give GTP, CTP, and UTP."

If the Venusian atmosphere is found to be deficient in any of the atomic elements required for building all amino acids for RNA then we could eliminate Venus as the ultimate source of influenza organisms. The synthesis of ATP, for example, requires Carbon, Oxygen, Hydrogen, Nitrogen and Phosphorus. The upper atmosphere of Venus has these elements in measurable quantities. . . .


This section was updated on 19 Jan 2007.
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Barber's space-platform monitoring proposal (for interplanetary bacterial travelers) could be extended to check for viral travelers. (NASA's high-altitude airborne-sampling U-2 also comes to mind.) Peaks in capture counts following inferior conjunctions of Venus would be awfully strong circumstantial evidence. Working from Barber's auroral belt entry to our atmosphere hypothesis, another avenue might be checking ice-core samples from the vicinity of the earth's magnetic north pole. Should any exobiological specimens be recovered in any of these endeavors, it would perhaps be prudent to compare them to those obtained (or being obtained) in the pathological and DNA follow-ups to the 1918-1919 pandemic.

Readers are encouraged to see the 22 Nov 2000 UPI article Scientists Report Alien' Life which reports that a research balloon, captured some potentially extraterrestrial bacteria some 10 miles above the Earth's surface. Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe, mentioned above, and his colleagues report having found the first evidence of life delivered to Earth, presumably by comet tails. It may turn out though that Barber beat them by 37 years.

* * *

If Florence
was in the grip of an epidemic
of colds, coughs and fevers,
astrologers . . . declared that
it was caused by the
influence
of an unusual conjunction
of planets.
This sickness . . .
came gradually to be known as
"influenza."

Chronicles of a Florentine Family
1200-1470.

Time, June 24, 1957,   p. 80

"Of the morning star, the great star, it was said that when it first emerged and came forth, four times it vanished and disappeared quickly. And afterwards it burst forth completely, took its place in full light, became brilliant, and shone white. Like the moon's rays, so did it shine. An when it newly emerged, much fear came over them; all were frightened. Everywhere the outlets and openings [of houses] were closed up. It was said that perchance [the light] might bring a cause of sickness, something evil, when it came to emerge.
But sometimes it was regarded as benevolent."

(Ancient Mesoamerican recollections of Venus)
Sahagun, Bernardino de., The Florentine Codex,
General History of the Things of New Spain - Book 7,

Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah, 1952, p. 11.

Thanks to Stephen Young, Boston, MA.

* * *

The following bio on D.R. Barber is from the 1963 Perspective journal.

Formerly superintendent of the Norman Lockyer Observatory of the University of Exeter. Born in 1901, was educated at St. John's Hospital and Heles schools, Exeter; graduated with honours in physics (B.Sc.), London University, 1925. Lecturer in physics at Seale-Hayne Agricultural College, Newton Abbot 1930 to 1936, where he did biological research work for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Became Assistant Astronomer at Norman Lockyer Observatory, Sidmouth in 1936. Worked as Martin Kellogg Fellow in Astronomy at the Lick Observatory of the University of California, 1940-1941. At Kodak Research Laboratories, Harrow, 1941-1945. Returned to the Norman Lockyer Observatory in 1945 as Chief Assistant, was appointed Superintendent in 1956, retiring in 1961. Is a fellow of the Institutes of Physics, of the Royal Astronomy Society and of the Royal Photographic Society.

Donald Barber died in August 2000. His obituary is printed in the Blackwell Synergy® online journal: Astronomy & Geophysics - The Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society.

References

(1) Barber, D. R., "Invasion by Washing Water," Perspective, Vol. 5, No. 4, pp.201-208, (1963) Focal Press, London, New York. The article was reprinted in the November 1964 issue of Analog Science Fact - Science Fiction.,Ed. John W. Campbell, Jr.

(2) Barry, John, The site of the origin of the 1918 influenza pandemic and its public health implications, Journal of Translational Medicine, 2, 3, (2004).

(3) Kolata, Gina, Flu, The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It, Simon & Schuster, Touchstone, New York, (1999).

(4) Velikovsky, Immanuel, Worlds in Collision, The Macmillan Company, pp. 183-187 (1950). (Macmillan sold their rights to Doubleday & Company, Inc. in 1950 and there is also a hard cover first edition of Worlds in Collision by the latter publisher in 1950.)

(5) Shu, Frank, The Physical Universe, An Introduction to Astronomy, p. 532, University Science Books, Mill Valley, CA (1982).

Recommended sites and further reading

Flu from Venus? Time, 21 Feb 1944, page 90. [Excerpts from original article.] - Professor Louis Backman of Uppsala University, Stockholm, suggested that it was entirely possible that organisms causing recent flu epidemics had come from Venus, Jupiter or Mars. ... Laboratory workers know that that bacteria and other living cells can survive the near-absolute-zero temperature of interplanetary space. ... University of California professor Charles B. Lipman once claimed that he had found living bacteria locked in meteorites millions of years old. ...No one else has confirmed Lipman's finding, and scientists have remained skeptical. ... Backman believes it very unlikely that life originated on the earth; he thinks it more properly started in the more favorable atmospheres containg methane and ammonia gases which surround planets such as Jupiter, Venus and Mars. From them, he says, living organisms may have been transported to the earth by meteorites or by the propulsive power of the sun's rays. [Added 29 Oct 2005. Thanks to Google's daily alert service. Search phrase: venus influenza.]

Influenza Pandemic - AndyPryke.com. Good historical overview of influenza pandemics and influenza-like pandemics from 412 BC to present. [Added 4 Sep 2005.]

Planetary exploration in the time of astrobiology: Protecting against biological contamination - John D. Rummel, PNAS, 2001, 98, 2128-2131 (2001). [Added 24 Jan 2012. This link replaces one to an earlier one on the same topic.]

[PDF] An Influence of the Heliogeophysical Conditions on Influenza Diseases in Azerbaijan During 1976-2000 - E.S. Babayev, R. Kh. Salman-Zadeh, F.E. Sadykhova, Sh. T. Shykahaliyeva. Abstract: The possible influence of solar and geomagnetic activities on influenza diseases is studied for the 1976-2000 interval. . . . Influenza epidemics usually begin 2-3 years before or 2-3 years after sunspot cycle maxima. We suppose that solar activity affects influenza epidemics mainly through geomagnetric activity. A forecast method for prophylactic measures is developed. [Added 2 December 2003. Edited]

Madness - Gerald N. Callahan, Emerging Infectious Diseases September 2002.

Solar wind blows some of Earth's atmosphere into space - Science@NASA - December 8 1998. (Added 11 August 2002.)

Earth weaves its own invisible cloak Polar fountains fill magnetosphere with ions. - NASA Marshall Space Flight Center - space sciences features - December 9, 1997. (Added 11 August 2002.)

Dust Storm on Planet Earth - Astronomy Picture of the Day - 2000 March 3. (Shows 26 February 2000 picture of Saharan dust blowing out over the Atlantic.) Credit: SeaWiFS Project, NASA.

Influenza B Virus Outbreak on a Cruise Ship -- Northern Europe, 2000 [Outbreak occurred in the June 23-July 5, 2000 timeframe in the Baltic. Passengers were primarily from the United States.] "Although results of rapid viral testing for influenza A and B viruses were negative, immunofluorescence staining and viral culture results implicated influenza B as the cause of the outbreak." - CDC MMWR March 02, 2001 / 50(08);137-140.

1976: Fear of a great plague - Paul Mickle - The Trentonian

Diseases from Space by Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe, J.M. Dent & Sons,
London, 1979.

Send comments/questions to fritzius@bellsouth.net
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