As drug companies prepare to launch their swine flu vaccine, researchers have this week discovered that a drug - and not a virus - may have been responsible for many of the deaths that occurred during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.
High aspirin use could account for many of the 40 million deaths attributed to the flu virus, says Dr Karen Starko, who has re-examined autopsy reports from the time. Many of the reports are consistent with aspirin toxicity.
Doctors were over-prescribing aspirin as they wanted to be doing something and yet they knew little about the drug's dangers, especially when taken at high doses. They were being pressurised by families who were pleading for something to protect themselves from the virus, and the manufacturers were also promoting aspirin use during the pandemic.
"Interventions cut both ways, "says Starko, in a cautionary note as we await the H1N1, swine flu vaccine.
(Source: Clinical Infectious Diseases, 2009; published September 29, 2009; doi: 10.1086/606060).