Fact Check: Fauci Study Does NOT Support Claim That The 'Unmasked Buried The Masked' in Spanish Flu Pandemic A Century Ago

Fact Check

  • by: Dean Miller
Fact Check: Fauci Study Does NOT Support Claim That The 'Unmasked Buried The Masked' in Spanish Flu Pandemic A Century Ago Didn't Say It

Did Dr. Anthony Fauci -- a leader of the U.S. government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic -- write a research study in 2008 that proves the unmasked buried the masked during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic and that masks were the reason so many died of bacterial pneumonia? No, that's not true: Fauci's research report describes a lethal interaction of viral and secondary infections. It never mentions masks.

The claim appeared in a naturopath and anti-mask activist's tweet (archived here) where it was published on the @ColleenHuberNMD Twitter account October 15, 2020, as: "The unmasked buried the masked in the 'Spanish Flu'." It opened:

What did people in #masks die from? Bacterial pneumonia. Who knew this and wrote about it in 2008? Dr. Anthony Fauci.

This is what the post looked like on Twitter at the time of writing:

Twitter screenshot

(Source: Twitter screenshot taken on Wed Oct 21 23:12:45 2020 UTC)

In the thread of related tweets by Huber, she says:

Dr. Fauci neglected to let the public know that he was co-author on a paper that found this:

1918-1919 pandemic deaths were mostly from bacterial pneumonia...why did that happen? #Masks

The findings of the paper Fauci co-authored do not support Huber's claim. And, unlike some academic journal articles and even some of Huber's own writing, it is available without subscription or fee, which is the opposite of trying to hide what he wrote.

Published October 1, 2008, in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, "Predominant Role of Bacterial Pneumonia as a Cause of Death in Pandemic Influenza: Implications for Pandemic Influenza Preparedness" was co-authored by David M. Morens, Jeffery K. Taubenberger and Anthony S. Fauci, who is the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The Journal of Infectious Diseases is a professional journal that requires pre-publication review by other qualified experts.

Fauci and his co-authors examined autopsy samples stored since the early 1900s and reviewed more than 2,000 medical reports from that time to determine that most deaths were the result of a one-two punch of viral and bacterial infection:

We believe that the weight of 90 years of evidence (table 3), including the exceptional but largely forgotten work of an earlier generation of pathologists, indicates that the vast majority of pulmonary deaths from pandemic influenza viruses have resulted from poorly understood interactions between the infecting virus and secondary infections due to bacteria that colonize the upper respiratory tract.

Fauci and his co-authors designed their study to precisely determine what killed Spanish Flu victims. The authors repeatedly emphasized the evidence of bacterial infection alongside viral infection in the lung tissue samples, and medical reports collected at the time:

The majority of deaths in the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic likely resulted directly from secondary bacterial pneumonia caused by common upper respiratory-tract bacteria...If severe pandemic influenza is largely a problem of viral-bacterial copathogenesis, pandemic planning needs to go beyond addressing the viral cause alone (e.g., influenza vaccines and antiviral drugs).

There are zero appearances of the word "mask" in the Fauci-co-authored study as the following screengrab shows:

Fauci.No.Mask.png

(Journal of Infectious Disease Ctrl/F search screengrab (arrow added) Wed Oct 21 21:19 UTC 2020)

Huber, a Tempe, Arizona state-licensed naturopath who claims 93% of her cancer patients are cured or in remission after intravenous and other doses with nutrients, dandelion oil, turmeric and artemisia, has posted in the past that mask-wearing is, counter to Fauci's advice, ineffective against COVID-19.

The website of her business does not provide the details of her education and training, although a video on the website says she has been treating cancer patients for a decade. Fauci, who has served under six presidents as head of the government's epidemic-fighting agency, graduated from the College of Holy Cross and Cornell Medical School.

Huber's post provides a link to an un-peer-reviewed, unpublished essay on the topic, which she posted to the controversial "ResearchGate" web platform, which has been criticized for facilitating fake science publication. Unlike Fauci's paper, which is freely available on the web, Huber's paper requires a would-be reader to request a copy from Huber.

InkedHuber.Article.Researchgate_LI.jpg

(ResearchGate screengrab (address obscured) Wed Oct 21 22:08 UTC 2020)

In the Tweet embedded here, Huber complains that even ResearchGate, an open science platform that was originally meant to promote free exchange among working scientists, has blocked her "articles" which are not published in a peer-reviewed professional journal:

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.

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  Dean Miller

Lead Stories staff writer Dean Miller has edited daily and weekly newspapers, worked as a reporter for more than a decade and is co-author of two non-fiction books. After a one-year Harvard Nieman Fellowship, he served as Director of Stony Brook University’s Center for News Literacy for six years. As Senior Vice President/Content at Connecticut Public Broadcasting, a dual licensee, he oversaw radio, TV and print journalists, and documentary producers. He moved west to teach journalism at Western Washington University, edit The Port Townsend Leader and write the twice-weekly Save The Free Press column for the Seattle Times. Miller won the 2007 national Mirror Award for news industry coverage and he led the team that won the 2005 Scripps Howard first amendment prize. 

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