New Theory on the origin of the flu

November 15, 2005

A recent theory claims that one does not catch the flu from contagious people, but by the activation of a dormant virus activated by vitamin D deficiency.

Serious medical journals do not often engage themselves with what private individuals think. In the latest issue of “The British Medical Journal” an exception is made on the journal’s last page, which is written regularly by the pretty named but anonymous female doctor, “Minerva.” Minerva has given her readers interesting scientific news, great and small, every week for decades.

This time she has pointed out a “blog” (an internet forum) with a gripping story on the virtues of vitamin D and why the flu sets in during the winter. She relates that the blog’s author is a member of “The vitamin D council,” a non-profit organisation which wishes to combat vitamin D deficiency.

Minerva recounts that he may be just another person who has hopped aboard the flu bandwagon. But could he possibly have found something important?

The blog is written by the Californian Dr. John Cannell. He explains, including many citations, first and foremost his theory about how the flu arises. The theory states that the flu is not so much the result of contagion, but more the activation of a dormant virus which we already have in our bodies. This virus can be activated and cause the flu when we are weakened by vitamin D deficiency during the winter. It is similar to the mechanisms behind cold sores, where the virus is dormant but can be activated causing a break out.

Does this sound like nonsense? In 2003, a department in the United State’s Center for Disease Control (CDC) disclosed that they had been unable to find any English language documentation for the flu being able to be infectious from person to person.

The recently dead epidemiologist, Edward Hope-Simpson discovered that when the elderly get shingles, it is caused by the same virus which causes chickenpox as a child. It becomes dormant in the body but can cause shingles when one is weakened by age.

Hope-Simpson became interested in the well known, but quite strange, fact that the flu only arises when the sun weakens during the winter. In the tropics, one gets the flu during the rainy season. He found that influenza outbreaks with exactly the same virus occurred year after year at almost exactly the same time in two far separated places, Prague and his English home town, Cirencester. With the help of old church records he found that, despite our faster daily lives, flu epidemics arise at the same time of year as they have for the last 400 years. This is true even in isolated towns; in such places the flu comes at the same time as in big cities.

Therefore, Hope-Simpson believed that flu epidemics are not cause by infection, but by a weakened state caused by the absence of sunlight. Canning now adds that vitamin D has a meaningful effect on the immune system and that the Japanese, as far back as 1945, found that it can protect rats against the flu. The well known vitamin D deficiency during the winter could be the reason for the weakened state that Hope-Simpson postulated.

Canning proposes that we should stock up on capsules of 50,000 units vitamin D in the event of a bird flu pandemic. He does not know if this will do any good, but says that it might save your life.

In any event, as Minerva also believes, his blog (as Minerva also believes) gives us something to think about.

By: Vitality Council

2. Minerva. British Medical Journal 2005;331:1152.