CHIROPRACTIC AND INFECTIOUS DISEASE — AN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
by Dr. Christopher Kent
As a collector of chiropractic memorabilia, I am awed the
breadth of vision demonstrated by those who went before us. Even more impressive
are some of the spectacular results reported by early chiropractors in patients
with infectious diseases.
One example where chiropractic care provided a beacon of
light was the 1917-18 influenza epidemic, which brought death and fear to many
Americans. It has been estimated that 20 million died throughout the world,
including about 500,000 Americans. Walter Rhodes  provides fascinating
information about the profession during those years. A chiropractic pioneer
wrote, “I was about to go out of business when the flu epidemic came — but when
it was over, I was firmly established in practice.” The results were
Rhodes reported that in Davenport, Iowa, medical doctors
treated 93,590 patients with 6,116 deaths — a loss of one patient out of every
15. Chiropractors at the Palmer School of Chiropractic adjusted 1,635 cases,
with only one death. Outside Davenport, chiropractors in Iowa cared for 4,735
cases with only six deaths — one out of 866.
During the same epidemic, in Oklahoma, out of 3,490 flu
patients under chiropractic care, there were only seven deaths. Furthermore,
chiropractors were called in 233 cases given up as lost after medical treatment,
and reportedly “saved all but 25.”
The unnamed authors of the 1925 book, “Chiropractic
Statistics,” undertook a more comprehensive survey.  This text is a
compilation of the responses of practicing chiropractors to a questionnaire. The
report covers 99,976 cases reported by 412 chiropractors in 110 specific
conditions. A sampling follows:
Gonorrhea: 408 cases involving 136 chiropractors
were reported. 341 cases showed complete recovery or very decided improvement.
66 cases showed little or no improvement. There was one fatality. The percentage
of recoveries stated was 83.6%.
Influenza: Reports covering 4,193 cases by 213
chiropractors were provided. 4,104 showed complete recovery. 79 patients showed
little or no improvement, and 10 fatalities were reported. The percentage of
recoveries cited was 99.4%.
Measles: 121 chiropractors reported on 673 cases.
665 cases showed complete recovery or “very decided” improvement. Seven showed
little or no improvement. One fatality was reported. The percentage of
recoveries reported was 98.8%.
Scarlet Fever: There were 149 cases involving 60
chiropractors. 147 were reported as completely recovered. Two showed little or
no improvement. There were no fatalities. The percentage of recoveries was said
to be 98.7%
Smallpox: 45 chiropractors attended 101 cases. 100
showed complete recovery. One was referred to another practitioner. There were
Chiropractic texts also addressed strategies for adjusting
and managing patients with infectious conditions. “Chiropractic Practice —
Volume 1 — Infectious Diseases”  discusses adjusting techniques and case
management for conditions including, for example, measles, mumps, chickenpox,
typhoid fever, meningitis, malarial fever, whooping cough, infantile paralysis
Of course, that was another era. The research methodology
of today simply didn’t exist. Furthermore, chiropractic is not a treatment for a
specific disease. Please don’t use these reports as the basis for a Yellow Pages
I find these reports from the past fascinating when taken
in the context of contemporary biology. Recent research has revealed much about
how the nervous system is involved in the immune process. Some of these studies
have been reviewed in previous columns. [4,5,6]
A comprehensive review of the literature summarizes our
current understanding.  “The brain and immune system are the two major
adaptive systems in the body. During an immune response, the brain and the
immune system ‘talk to each other’ and this process is essential for maintaining
homeostasis…Two pathways link the brain and the immune system: the autonomic
nervous system (ANS) via direct neural influences, and the neuroendocrine
humoral outflow via the pituitary….the ANS regulates the function of all
innervated tissues and organs throughout the vertebrate body with the exception
of skeletal muscle fibers.”
In a world where we are faced with antibiotic resistant
bacteria, and viral diseases where effective treatments are lacking, the role of
chiropractic care in allowing for optimum immune system function deserves
1. Rhodes WR: “The Official History of Chiropractic in
Texas.” Texas Chiropractic Association. Austin, TX. 1978.
2. “Chiropractic Statistics.” The Chiropractic Research and
Review Service. Burton Shields Press. Indianapolis, IN. 1925.
3. Wells BF, Janse J: “Chiropractic Practice. Volume 1.
Infectious Diseases.” National College of Chiropractic. Chicago, IL. 1942.
4. Kent C: “Neuroimmunology — an update.” The
Chiropractic Journal. August, 2001. http://www.worldchiropracticalliance.org/tcj/2001/aug/aug2001kent.htm
5. Kent C: “Neuroimmunology and chiropractic.” The
Chiropractic Journal. October, 1995. http://www.worldchiropracticalliance.org/tcj/1995/oct/oct1995kent.htm
6. Kent C: “The mental impulse-biochemical and immunologic
aspects.” The Chiropractic Journal. February, 1999. http://www.worldchiropracticalliance.org/tcj/1999/feb/feb1999kent.htm
7. Elenkov IJ, Wilder RL, Chrousos GP, Vizi ES: “The sympathetic nerve-an integrative interface between the two supersystems: the brain and the immune system.” Pharmacol Rev 2000;52:295-638. http://pharmrev.aspetjournals.org/cgi/reprint/52/4/595.pdf