Letters to the Editor  |   October 2004
More About the Use of OMT During Influenza Epidemics
Author Affiliations
  • Harold I. Magoun, Jr, DO, FAAO, FCA, DO ED (Hon)
    Greenwood Village, Colorado
Article Information
Disaster Medicine / Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment
Letters to the Editor   |   October 2004
More About the Use of OMT During Influenza Epidemics
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, October 2004, Vol. 104, 406-407. doi:10.7556/jaoa.2004.104.10.406
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, October 2004, Vol. 104, 406-407. doi:10.7556/jaoa.2004.104.10.406
To the Editor:  
In his letter, Martyn E. Richardson, DO, was absolutely right in advocating the use of osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) for patients with severe acute respiratory syndrome (J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2004;104: 71). However, although Dr Richardson cited the influenza epidemic of 1918 as a reference, he did not provide related statistics. As that event is the most outstanding example of the efficacy of OMT on record in the United States, related statistics have been published in a number of sources, including The First School of Osteopathic Medicine, 1 by Georgia W. Walter and my book, Structured Healing.2 
The 2-year influenza outbreak that occurred between 1918 and 1919 was a worldwide epidemic. Original estimates placed related fatalities at 21 million, 1% of the world's population at that time.3 Several recent estimates place the number of fatalities at 30 million.4 
In the United States, more than 28% of the population succumbed to the disease overall.4 In US military hospitals, the mortality rate averaged 36%, while the mortality rate in US medical hospitals fell between 30% and 40%, with the exception of a rate of 68% in medical hospitals in New York City.5 
The osteopathic medical profession had few hospitals then, but the American School of Osteopathy, now the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine of A. T. Still University of Health Sciences, in Kirksville, Mo, contacted all their alumni. This effort culminated in 2445 osteopaths responding in treating 110,122 patients with influenza, with a resulting mortality of 0.25%. One of the few osteopathic medical hospitals, 400-bed Massachusettes Osteopathic Hospital, in Boston, also reported a mortality of 0.25% for that period.1 
Why the difference in outcome? Allopathic medical treatment for patients with influenza consisted of cough syrup and aspirin, treating the fever as a symptom, rather than recognizing fever as the body's response to an infection. And as Andrew Taylor Still, MD, DO, stated in his autobiography, “Fever is a natural and powerful remedy.”6 
In contrast, osteopathic medical treatment for patients with influenza consisted of cough syrup, yes, but also gentle OMT, resulting in a dramatic difference in mortality. Thomas L. Northup, DO, has reported that the same mode of therapy is effective in patients with pneumonia.7 
In another response to Dr Richardson in the same issue of the The Journal, M. Reza Nassiri, DSc, 8 Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, was correct in stating that OMT has not been used in treating patients with SARS. We can assume also that OMT has not been used to treat patients with West Nile virus, nor in patients with today's influenza epidemics, except perhaps other than in isolated cases. To conduct the large-scale studies necessary to prove the benefit of OMT for patients with these diseases, a study proposal would have to be generated by the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), rather than by an individual or a small group. This is because the public's perception is too enamored of traditional medicine to consider funding such a project. 
In Colorado, we have had two serious epidemics in recent years: West Nile virus and traditional influenza. In both instances, I contacted a leading television station in Denver, Colo (KUSA, Channel 9), which had dramatized the severity of both epidemics with the theme, “Channel 9 listens.” I reported to Channel 9 representatives that OMT plus good nutrition support the immune system and would save lives in the current crisis. I never heard a word back from them and in a life and death situation! 
It would take a huge effort by the AOA to have the American public acknowledge OMT's benefit for patients affected by these epidemics. Sadly, it is unlikely to happen because the AOA has aligned itself with traditional medicine. For 40 years, AOA officials have talked about making OMT mandatory in all osteopathic medical internships and residencies. It has yet to be done. It is tragic that osteopathic physicians are losing much of the great legacy A. T. Still left to the profession. 
Walter GW. The First School of Osteopathic Medicine. Kirksville, Mo: The Thomas Jefferson University Press at Northeast Missouri State University; 1992:95 .
Magoun HI. Structured Healing. Escondido, Calif: A & L Litho; 2001:127 .
Pagewise. Spanish Flu 1918. Available at: Accessed October 11, 2004.
Kolata G. The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1999.
Patterson MM. Osteopathic methods and the great flu pandemic of 1917-1918. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2000;100:309-310.
Still AT. Autobiography of Andrew T. Still, With a History of the Discovery and Development of the Science of Osteopathy (Medicine and Society in America). Manchester, NH: Ayer Company Publishers; 1897.
Northup TL. Pneumonia under osteopathic manipulative therapy. Academy of Applied Osteopathy, 1945 Year Book. ; 101 .
Nassiri MR. Severe acute respiratory syndrome deserves scientists and physicians' full attention. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2003;103:359-360.