The Equine Influenza Event Of 1872 And Today’s Corona Virus

The world is paralyzed by the new Coronavirus called COVID-19 that started in China and is now in many countries. But this is the third Coronavirus disease in the past 20 years and our horses have also been through similar events. Several influenza viruses have severely affected horses in the United Kingdom and Australia since 2003 but the worst reported influenza event in horses was in 1872 in the United States.

Sick horses were first reported in Ontario Canada and it quickly spread down to New York City, Rochester, Boston, Maine, Montreal and Detroit. Up to 95% of the horses in urban areas were affected with 1% dying and the remaining fully recovering over 2 to 3 weeks. Disruption to the economy was profound as everything moved by horse then. Freight backed up on barges on the Erie Canal and fires decimated some city areas because the horse-drawn equipment had to be pulled by men.

What Is A Virus?

There are many types of viruses and thousands are in our bodies right now. When working properly, viruses find a host, invade certain cells and reproduce themselves. This is very similar to internal parasites where the parasite (in this case the virus) requires a host to fulfill its life cycle. The idea is to not upset the host but to breed, shed and find a new host.

On occasion, a virus harms the host to some degree. A common cold is when a virus overstimulates the immune system and we feel under the weather. However, some strains of viruses goof and this is what COVID-19  is doing.

All viruses need to find a spot to enter the cell where they take over the machinery needed to make more viruses (reproduce). Usually, this is benign but COVID-19 enters through a hormone receptor site called the ACE-2 receptor. These are located on the lung cells that make surfactant, the fluid needed to keep the lungs inflated and working. Without it, the lungs collapse and air can no longer be exchanged. ACE-2 receptors are also in heart muscle and this is why some people show signs of cardiovascular disease. They are also located in the gut but the signs there are non-descriptive.

How Do You Stop A Bad Virus?

This is an interesting question because viruses are everywhere and constantly invading us and our horses. It is so human to get worried only after a bad virus rears its ugly head. If we instead took precautions daily we would be better prepared when a bad one comes along. Let me explain.

Today we are asking people to keep themselves away from others and sanitize public surfaces and avoid touching our hands to our faces. This works on ALL viruses but is considered unrealistic in our day-to-day lives. As with ourselves, our horses go places all the time. They eat in common stalls and paddocks at boarding barns and show grounds. The ability of our horses to become infected is substantial. At least we have interstate health certificates. Can you imagine if that was mandated for humans? There would be outrage!

In the isolation model, we are trying to slow the spread of this virus for one reason. COVID-19 has been shown to spread very rapidly and at the rate of spread our health system will be overrun leading to more deaths than necessary. The United States is already short on basic supplies such as bed sheets and intubation tubes for humans. There are not enough intensive care unit beds, supplies and staff to support the predicted number of ICU cases. However, what is not talked about is the fact that most of us will eventually get the virus especially if we go places and meet people. The primary goal of social isolation is to buy time for the health care system to gear up for all those who will become severely sick. This is approximately 6% (from Italy data) or 6 in 100 people.

As we have heard, the worst cases and the nearly 1% death rate (China data) were in people with poor health and poor immune systems living in close proximity to others. This includes the elderly suffering from other diseases such as dementia. A client of mine was a nurse in a dementia hospital where a case of the flu took the lives of 33% of the patients there. This was YEARS AGO and not this virus. All viruses can kill and as you saw in the 1872 equine influenza outbreak, 1 in 100 horses died (1%).

Prevention Is The Key

Isolation will slow the spread and will eventually kill the virus because there will be no more hosts to invade and replicate in. But in a world where people and horses fly around the world, I think there may be another way. There is an expression called “herd immunity” where once a population becomes exposed to a disease, the immune systems of that population will kill the virus. The downside to this is that everyone in the population will get sick to a degree and up to 1% will die. Believe it or not, from what I have discovered in my research, the United Kingdom is taking this approach.

Can we do this ourselves and for our horses? Let’s look at something called prevention and I don’t mean vaccinations. What if we lowered the inflammation we have daily that is tying up our immune resources? I have written extensively about gut inflammation as the root cause of most of our diseases. Reading anything on longevity in humans, the common thought is to eliminate systemic inflammation, which is the key to living a long and healthy life. Most medical doctors now call dementia Type 3 Diabetes and this is really brain inflammation. I mentioned in the last blog the association of fructose with the uric acid formation which causes inflammation of the kidneys and the pancreas. I have discussed intermittent fasting as a way to clear out cellular inflammation. All of these things we and our horses can do BEFORE a bad virus strikes. This alone will make for a favorable outcome without any other medications being needed. We may still need a few days off but why not get 8 hours of sleep, eliminate all simple sugars, do deep breathing to stimulate lung health, take 10,000 units of Vitamin D (or go naked in the sun) and laugh more?

The Psychologic State

Laughing reminded me that there was a psychologist who wrote in “Psychology Today” last week that the worst thing about the COVID-19 virus is not the flu it caused but the psychological trauma it brings. Based on years of study he mentioned 2 important thoughts.

The first thought is that there is no scientific evidence of any pandemics or epidemics before we became an agrarian society about 10,000 years ago, He suggested that our communities were “loose” as hunter-gatherers. Cities became commonplace when grain was developed and we became “tight” communities. In addition, many feel that the addition of grain also overworked the immune system and that these two factors have led to all the discovered epidemics. The Bubonic Plague is an example of only one of thousands of epidemics recorded since the evidence became available through genetic testing of fossils.

The second thought the author had was that it is inherent in our makeup to be on the lookout for danger. We live in the easiest and the safest times humans have ever known. So do our horses but they aren’t on the internet. When a threat comes to our door we know what to do. But when the threat can’t be seen coming such as a virus, when we don’t know what to do, when we don’t know the history of previous virus epidemics, when we are unsure of our own health and we don’t know the facts then the only response is to panic. The panic is accentuated by the ever-present reporting of stories in the media and on the internet. Not only are we looking for trouble, but it also seems to be this huge thing we can’t see that we hear about all the time.

Robert Greene, the author, said in an interview once that people act with “probability neglect.” This is when we don’t properly assign our reactions to the probability of an event. The probability of dying in an airplane crash is statistically much lower than in a car wreck yet people will drive while texting but will not fly on a plane. The sign over the Georgia interstate said last week that 690 people had died this year (2 1/2 months) on Georgia roads. That isn’t stopping the traffic. The billboard in Florida stated their hospital has performed 60,000 open heart surgeries yet we continue to eat the foods that create the problem because it tastes good and they can fix the problem anyway.

The COVID-19 virus may become one of the worst pandemics the world has seen with an astounding number of deaths, But would it be this way if we were all prepared with an awesome immune system before it showed up? It might be too late for us but for our horses, we have time. Minimize their inflammation by feeding them correctly, giving them a safe place to sleep and making their life a pleasure to live in. And Laugh with them – it’s the best medicine.

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    1. For horses? Feed them only food they can find ON the ground when in season. This is basically forages (grass and ground plants) and water. You can add a mined salt block if they sweat a lot and add protein in the form of soybean meal if they are chronically protein deficient. Honor the seasonal reduction of available food (winter) and allow them to eliminate their gut inflammation. See for more information and enroll in my nutrition course.

      For people? Eat only what is in season. Avoid a constant (daily and every day) intake of glucose and fructose (both are in sugar while glucose is all starch) which includes grains. Limit eating to a window of 6 hours followed by 18 hours of no food to allow a reduction in gut inflammation. Restricted intake of food has been proven in humans and in lab animals to be the number one way to reduce gut inflammation, improve the immune system, improve overall health and increase longevity. Eat fiber (vegetables but NOT nightshades, fruit but only when in season and limited in portions), fat (grass fed butter, MCT oil, EVOO and fish oil but better to eat the whole fish), protein (white and red meat, plant sources and fish which includes EPA and DHA fat), polyphenols (coffee, green tea, plants), WATER (½ your weight in ounces) and take 10,000 iu Vitamin D3 (we all don’t get enough sun). We all want to live a long and healthy life yet literally half of Americans have obesity, diabetes (remember that dementia is now called type 3 diabetes), heart disease and cancer. It is NOT supposed to be this way.

      Everything you want to know about sugar, fat, protein, vitamins and minerals are in my blogs and the nutrition course. Time to dig in…

  1. Thank you!
    I’ve been intermittently fasting since November, cut alcohol and sugar from my diet , this is more motivation to keep going ! So blessed to have horses , they keep us grounded and in the moment.

  2. Geoff,
    Love learning more about things from an equine perspective from you. This article is a wonderful example. And as I heard someone say “this too shall pass”!
    Take care, Carol Ellmaker Armstrong

  3. Always so informative. I’m happy to have my thoughts on the current virus confirmed. Thanks Dr Tucker.

  4. If it’s too late for us then we won’t be around to take care of our horses or being able to afford to keep them. You may see a lot of horses going to slaughter because of this virus if people are wiped out financially which I’m afraid of.

    1. Stay positive Elaine. We will all get through this and hundreds of things to come because as “horse people,” we are strong people.

  5. You don’t need to even think of answering. Just keep all this good information coming. This article on the virus is so informative that I have shared it with a lot of my friends who don’t even have a horse. Have a good day and stay safe.