My health problems are supposedly due to a virus, and I’m beginning to think that just might be the case, but before anyone jumps to conclusions, let me explain.
So, what was being referred to by the word “virus” for centuries before that time?
The word virus originally meant toxin or poison in Latin. Knowing that helps me postulate how those kinds of viruses—i.e. toxins and poisons—might play a role in causing poor health in certain groups of people.
As Michael and I were driving to breakfast the other day, one of the Saturday morning talk shows on NPR was joking about mosquitoes in Madison. My mind flashes back to days of my youth, growing up on a farm near the (ahem) wholesome, rural farming community of Colby, Kansas, on the arid High Plains of the United States.
Normally, one thinks of mosquitoes as a problem for tropical locales, and I’m sure they are, but we had mosquitoes in the land of the Dust Bowl, too. Colby’s city fathers had zero tolerance for whatever minimal mosquito population would arise every summer, because I distinctly recall the novelty of the mosquito fogging trucks that would roam the streets in the early evening, blanketing the entire town with an acrid smoke.
We didn’t use mosquito foggers on the farm when I was growing up, and truth be told, I don’t remember swatting mosquitoes very often. Horse flies were another matter. Come to think of it, we had fireflies too, which I rarely see anymore.
It was while I was a kid visiting townies that I encountered the fogger, rolling slowly down the residential streets after supper, spewing a thick cloud behind the truck. I remember riding our bikes, or chasing each other in the fog for “fun”. Hey, kids can be stupid, and I was no exception. In my defense, we were led to think the fog—lethal to bugs—was harmless to us humans.
Kids in South Korea playing in the fog.
I don’t know now what was being sprayed then, but I do remember being told that the insecticide was distributed in a base of diesel fuel, so I suspect it was a thermal fogger. I can’t rule out that it did not contain DDT, a commonly used insecticide which was banned in the U.S. in 1972. Whatever it was, it made the back of my throat burn and my eyes water.
Insecticides were only one of the poisons I grew up with on the farm. Our water source was a well that drew from the Ogallala aquifer, a huge underground basin that covers eight states and that to this day still contains fossil water from the time of the last glaciations. This ancient water is mixed and replenished with surface water percolating through the soil, carrying whatever chemicals the farmers above have put on their fields down with it into the aquifer.
At the time of my youth, Atrazine was one of the most commonly used herbicides in that part of the country, an area that was known as the largest producer of winter wheat in the world. More recently, irrigation has expanded the variety of crops that can be grown there to include corn and soybeans, both crops that require even more intensive chemical pest control.
Atrazine was first made available commercially when I was only three years old in 1959. For more than a decade before we moved to town, the chemical was percolating through the soil and into the aquifer, only to be drawn back up as drinking water on the farm. Moving to town gained us “city-water”, which was stored in enormous water towers, but was drawn from the same aquifer source.
Exposure to even miniscule levels of Atrazine causes a host of human illnesses, prenatal problems, gender disturbances in fetuses and may even be a major culprit in the recent demise of bees known as colony collapse disorder. It is some nasty stuff.
The barns and sheds on our farms and those of our neighbors were filled with heavy bags, 5-gallon cans and 55-gallon drums of herbicides to be spread across the land. We breathed them. We ate them. We drank them.
Still under my father’s tutelage, once our family moved to town to operate a small inn, I began learning how to remodel and renovate old buildings. I don’t know how many times I removed asbestos laden materials as part of demolition projects.
Another event that I still recall is stumbling out of an enclosed space after nearly asphyxiating myself by spraying an epoxy paint in a shower.
As an adult, I continued to operate a remodeling business and my workspaces and basement were filled with more cans of solvents, paints, strippers and chemicals with labels that specified these products’ VOC. I didn’t know what VOCs (volatile organic compounds) were then, but don’t let the word organic fool you. These are harmful and immune disruptive substances too.
All of these exposures to harmful chemicals—or “viruses”—were unintentional, for the most part. Stupid in hindsight, perhaps, but unintentional.
I also indulged in optional abusive toxins recreationally, injecting what was called “crystal” in my late teens. I’m not sure if this is the same drug by that name that today’s youth are dabbling with or not. I was told it was a form of speed. I also snorted a bit of coke and toked weed for years. Fortunately for me the abuse of white powder lasted less than a year.
I smoked cigarettes and chewed tobacco for more than 25 years. Heavily. The best thing I have ever done to improve my health and feel better was quitting all tobacco products on March 13, 2001, my dad’s birthday one year after he died.
Finally, there is a history of excessive pharmaceutical drugs for many years. Even before testing “positive” on Gallo’s polyreactive test for common (or at least not unique) antibody proteins, I was experiencing illnesses that were treated with strong antibiotics, like Flagyl. After starting on AIDS chemotherapy in 1998, I quickly advanced through an increasingly heavy burden of prescription drugs until I was taking more than two dozen of them simultaneously in 2006.
Those are just the known exposures to toxins and poisons that I can remember now. There are other possible suspects that may well contribute to my poor health.
The Perth Group proposes that, in addition to illicit drug use, the oxidative stress resulting from repeated exposure to semen is a sufficient explanation for the immune failure in sexually active gay men that has come to be known as AIDS. I’ll spare you the details, but I meet the criteria above.
Besides the toxic substances I’ve highlighted above, like most modern Americans, I am a product of a consumer culture that is in love with chemicals, food additives and the by-products of a consumer society. While I now try to avoid overly processed foods, those boxes of manufactured food-like substances were part of my daily diet for years. I am a recovering Royal Crown Cola addict as well.
I see a lot of illness around me, in my family, and among my friends and neighbors. In my own extended family there are people with cancer, MS, Down’s Syndrome, fibromyalgia and gawd knows what other chronic diseases often associated with an immune system overwhelmed by toxins.
Toxin disease is one of accumulation. Some of us acquire more toxins more regularly and more often than others, but no one is free of them. We are also designed to process and eliminate toxins, so there is infinite variety among us in terms of capacity and capability to do that work.
With each passing year of my recovery, which I started in earnest in 2007, these and other events of my past surface and reinforce for me the notion that I do not need a mysterious, sneaky pathogen whose questionable isolation experiment has never been repeated, to explain my poor health and weakened immune system.
Recalling these past events and exposures also help point me to what I believe is a reasonable approach to restoring my health to whatever extent is now possible: reduce exposure to new toxins; eliminate accumulated toxins; heal cellular damage and restore and balance an overwhelmed and dysfunctional immune system.
My experience with the modern medical system is that it tries to treat every problem with prescription drugs, which are usually toxic themselves. That so many are prefaced with the word “anti” is telling: antibiotics, antidepressants, anticoagulant, antiretrovirals, etc. They are often based on a principle of killing another life form, or suppressing a biological function or system. That there are so few, if any “pro” or positive drugs in the pharmacy speaks volumes about the mindset of modern pharmacology.
If the word virus actually means toxins, and if prescription drugs are typically toxins in one form or another, why not start referring to pharmaceutical drugs as “viruses”?
And remind me again: why are we taking them trying to curing every little ill?