The 1918 Influenza Pandemic and Chiropractic

Although chiropractic approaches the management of disease from a different perspective than allopathic medicine does, the enduring popularity of the chiropractic model of care is due at least in part to the role it played in the 1918 flu pandemic.

Maybe you were unaware that chiropractic played ANY role in the 1918 pandemic. After all, that was nearly 100 years ago, and chiropractic was a fairly young profession at the time. But health statistics from 1918 reveal some pretty startling trends:

  • In Davenport, Iowa, medical doctors cared for 4,953 cases of flu with 274 deaths, while chiropractors saw 1,635 cases with only one death. Davenport MDs therefore lost one patient out of every 18, or 5.5% of flu patients, yet the death rate among people with influenza who were attended by chiropractors was an astonishing 0.06%.
  • For the entire state of Iowa, medical doctors treated 93,590 patients, with 6,116 deaths—a loss of one patient out of every 15 (6.7%). Outside of Davenport, 4,735 patients were seen by chiropractors with a loss of only six patients (0.13%). In summary, medical doctors statewide reported that one out of every 15 flu patients they treated died, but chiropractors lost only one patient out of every 789. These numbers are strikingly similar to those observed in Davenport.
  • Nationwide, chiropractors cared for 46,394 patients with influenza during 1918, with a loss of 54 patients, or one out of every 859 (0.12%).
  • In the state of Oklahoma, chiropractors assumed care for 233 patients whom medical doctors had essentially pronounced “beyond help or hope”. Rather than the 100% death rate that could be expected from these cases, 89.3% recovered after receiving chiropractic care and only 10.7% died.

So what do all these numbers mean? Taken together, they demonstrate that people with influenza who were cared for by chiropractors were anywhere from around 40 to 100 times less likely to die from the flu than those who were treated by medical doctors. One could make the argument that medical doctors received the more serious cases, while chiropractors managed milder cases or cases with fewer complications. However, the statistics from Oklahoma contradict the notion that chiropractors didn’t deal with severe cases of the flu, or didn’t achieve better survival rates than medical doctors. They simply viewed and managed the flu differently, and those differences showed in the statistics.

In our next entry, we’ll examine why these numbers are still pertinent today, and why our current methods of managing outbreaks aren’t giving us the results we want.