By Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe
Cardiff - January 21 2000 - There is a great deal of evidence to show that catching influenza is due far more to where we are than to the people we have been in contact with over the last few days. For instance studies have found that spouses of sufferers are no more at risk from the disease than members of the population at large.
Variations of immunity cannot explain such facts particularly in the case of new and virulent strains of the virus. Where person to person contact is greatest within the context of families detailed statistics have consistently shown than nothing significant seems to happen. This experience is repeated year after year with every influenza season, the present one being no exception.
A study in schools that we made during the bad winter attack of 1978/79 showed unexpectedly large differences in the incidence of disease between pupils who boarded in different houses at the same school.
Showing that it was the particular location of the house that pupils were domiciled that mattered, not whether contacts at mealtimes and in school classes happened to be incubating the virus.
There was no evidence at all that one pupil caught influenza from another. It was the place where a boy or girl spent his or her time that mattered above all else. (For details of this analysis we refer the reader to our book Diseases from Space J.M. Dent & Sons Lond., 1979)
Another point of significance is that the spread of influenza takes no account of modern modes of travel. The spread is still the same as it was before the advent of modern air travel. The spread over the Earth still takes months, which would be difficult to explain on the basis of spread through contact with an incubation period of only a few days. It is still the same as it was a century ago.
The lethal wave of influenza in 1918/19, said to have killed more than the murderous assaults of the first World War, was first detected on the same day in Boston and Bombay. Yet in spreading within the United States it took three weeks to go from Boston to New York.
And of the influenza epidemic of 1948 an Italian doctor (Professor Magrassi) reported of the then remote island Sardinia:
"We were able to verify the appearance of influenza in shepherds who were living for a long time alone, in solitary open country far from any inhabited centre. This occurred at just the same time as influenza appeared in the nearest inhabited centres."
In January 1919 Governor Riggs of Alaska reported to a committee of the U.S. Senate that influenza had spread all over an area with the size of Europe and with only a small thinly spread population of about fifty thousand.
This was despite conditions for human travel being worse than anybody could remember, "The territory has to be reached by dog team. You have the short days, the hard, cold weather, and you only make 20 to 30 miles a day. The conditions are such as have never happened before in the history of the territory….."
Influenza is known to come to us in winter, with January and February usually being the worst months. Why? Because in temperate latitudes it is in the winter months that air from the Earth's stratosphere comes down to ground level, and it is because exceptionally cold air from the stratosphere came down on Alaska in the winter of 1918/1989 that conditions for travel there were the worst in living memory.
Air brought down from the stratosphere carrying either the virus itself or a trigger for it reaches ground-level patchily. Occasionally it can arrive at the same time at widely separated places like Boston and Bombay, not requiring any humans to go from one place to the other.
The patches of virus appear to have a very fine scale like smoke caught up in swirls of turbulent air. Even to the extent of hitting one school house and missing another as we found in our 1978 study.
Part Two Of The Flu From Space
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