The claim: Polio is caused by pesticide exposure, not a virus
A Jan. 22 Instagram post (direct link, archive link) features several black and white photos that appear to show people being sprayed with white fumes.
“Polio wasnt (sic) some single strain virus eradicated by a miracle vax,” the post reads. “It was pesticides like Lead Arsenate and its more lethal replacement DDT that lead to lower spine lesions through the gut.”
The post received more than 10,000 likes in five days.
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Our rating: False
Scientists say polio is caused by a virus, not by pesticides. A vaccine was developed for polio in the 1950s which led to it being eliminated in North and South America by 1994.
No link between DDT, polio
Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, a Stanford University professor who studies global health, infectious diseases and epidemiology, said the notion that polio could be caused by DDT is wrong, flying in the face of more than a century of science and evidence.
“I can’t think of a scientific reason why anyone would think an environmental substance would cause this disease,” she said.
Several decades ago, researchers had identified medical conditions that could lead to paralytic syndromes that appeared similar to polio. They included spinal injuries, venom from certain spiders and snakes and poisoning with chemicals, including certain pesticides.
However, DDT, a compound used as an insecticide that was singled out in the post, is not linked to polio, let alone paralysis, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fact sheet.
DDT was actually used after World War II in the U.S. in an attempt to control polio, with some public health officials mistakenly believing the virus might have been spread by flies. It was banned in the U.S. in 1972, although it is still used in some countries.
Virus identified as cause of polio more than a century ago
The strongest proof of the nature of the polio disease is the effectiveness of the vaccine developed for it.
The vaccine dropped polio paralysis cases in the U.S. from 15,000 in the 1950s to 10 in the 1970s, according to the CDC. The World Health Organization said cases caused by wild poliovirus globally decreased by over 99% between 1988 and 2021 as a result of the polio vaccine.
Polio is a disease that attacks the nervous system, potentially causing paralysis or death. Most cases are asymptomatic or appear similar to the flu, but one in 200 cases results in paralysis, according to the World Health Organization.
The disease is caused by a virus, according to the World Health Organization and Johns Hopkins, not pesticides. Dr. Karl Landsteiner and Dr. Erwin Popper discovered that polio was a viral infection in 1908.
Fact check: Research proves HIV is the cause of AIDS, contrary to viral claimIn 1949, researchers announced they had identified three types of poliovirus, according to The College of Physicians of Philadelphia’s “History of Vaccines” website. A vaccine was successfully developed in 1955.
“Person-to-person transmission of polio may be eliminated in the next few years, hopefully,” Maldonado said “Virtually all of that is attributable to vaccines.”
USA TODAY reached out to the Instagram user sharing the claim for comment.
The Associated Press and Lead Stories also debunked this claim
Our fact-check sources:
Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, Jan. 27, Zoom interview
World Health Organization, accessed Jan. 27, History of polio vaccination
World Health Organization, July 4, 2022, Poliomyelitis
The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, accessed Jan. 27, Polio
CDC, accessed Jan. 27, Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) Fact Sheet
CDC, updated Jan. 9, What is Polio?
CDC, updated Aug. 3, 2022, Polio Elimination in the United States
Journal of Virology, June 1, 1999, Milestones in Early Poliomyelitis Research (1840 to 1949)
Reviews of Infectious Diseases, May-June 1984, Nonpolio causes of polio-like paralytic syndromes
Environmental History journal, Oct. 2017, Polio, DDT, and Disease Risk in the United States after World War II
Associated Press, Jan. 25, Experts say toxic pesticide DDT not linked to polio
Lead Stories, Jan. 23, Fact Check: Polio Is NOT Caused By DDT, Vaccine IS Key To Eradication
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Polio caused by virus, combatted with vaccine