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A Mythological 1919 Flu Story…Don’t Be Fooled…
There is a story going around about the 1919 Influenza Pandemic and how to ward off the the flu with onions. But it can’t possibly be true, so don’t be fooled! Here’s the 1919 Flu Myth that is making the rounds on the internet.
“In 1919 when the flu killed 40 million people there was this Doctor that visited the many farmers to see if he could help them combat the flu. Many of the farmers and their families had contracted it and many died.
The doctor came upon this one farmer and to his surprise, everyone was very healthy. When the doctor asked what the farmer was doing that was different the wife replied that she had placed an unpeeled onion in a dish in the rooms of the home, (probably only two rooms back then). The doctor couldn’t believe it and asked if he could have one of the onions and place it under the microscope. She gave him one and when he did this, he did find the flu virus in the onion. It obviously absorbed the virus, therefore, keeping the family healthy.
Now, I heard this story from my hairdresser in AZ.. She said that several years ago many of her employees were coming down with the flu and so were many of her customers. The next year she placed several bowls with onions around in her shop. To her surprise, none of her staff got sick. It must work.. (And no, she is not in the onion business.)
The moral of the story is, buy some onions and place them in bowls around your home. If you work at a desk, place one or two in your office or under your desk or even on top somewhere. Try it and see what happens. We did it last year and we never got the flu.”
While this is a nice little story about the 1919 flu, it is JUST that, a story. It cannot possibly be true because you can’t see the flu virus with a microscope! Even the best oil immersion compound microscopes today can only see a particle about 1/2 micron in size, and the flu virus is approximately one micron- that would have been a huge feat for emerging technology at that time. And the electron microscope, which can see the flu virus, was only invented in 1933!
In fact, in the book The Great Influenza: The story of the deadliest pandemic in history one of the top researchers of the flu virus at that time had become an epidemiologist because he had a microscope and most of the other medical students did not- and if you wanted to use a microscope in medical school, you had to have your own!
Also in the book, much of the stories of the scientists working on creating a flu vaccine centered around their frenzied attempts to identify the causative agent behind the pandemic. The researchers, by deductive reasoning, knew that it was caused by some sort of microorganism, but using all of the resources of the top universities and laboratories of the time, they could not identify it- because they could not see it under a microscope! At one point, they were able to filter out a liquid that made ferrets sick with a flu-like illness. And bingo, they had the beginnings of the first flu vaccine.
But at that time, no one had still yet seen the flu virus. Only until later during the epidemic did someone come up with an advanced staining technique that allowed the virus to be seen, but this was still a complicated hit-and-miss technique that a rural doctor with a hand-held microscope and an onion could not have POSSIBLY been able to accomplish. So, maybe an onion in the house DOES work to ward off the flu, I don’t know, but I DO know that the farmer and the onion story of the Influenza Epidemic of 1919 is officially a myth.
Want some better ways to ward off the flu? Take a look at why these strategies could be beneficial: