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Instagram reel promotes the baseless claim that viruses don’t exist, ignoring more than a century of science about infectious diseases

Viruses don’t exist, terrain theory explains why diseases occur
Factually inaccurate: Viruses do exist and their existence has been demonstrated through multiple scientific techniques, such as cell culture, genome sequencing, and electron microscopy.
Misleading: Diseases can have infectious and non-infectious causes. Some diseases like scurvy and beriberi are caused by intrinsic nutritional deficiencies and aren’t due to infectious agents. However, scientific evidence demonstrates that infectious diseases are caused by infectious agents such as viruses, as explained by germ theory.
Diseases can have infectious and non-infectious causes. Germ theory holds that certain diseases can be caused by microorganisms. This theory is key to our modern ability to prevent, diagnose, and treat infectious diseases. It explains why things like antibiotics, vaccines, and improvements in sanitation produced public health breakthroughs. While some diseases can be caused by deficiencies in the individual, in keeping with the concept of the terrain theory, such as Vitamin C deficiency, this doesn’t mean that all diseases are caused by imbalances in the body.

FULL CLAIM: Herpes is caused by lack of collagen, flu is caused by salt imbalance, COVID-19 is caused by 5G radiation, rabies doesn’t exist, HIV is caused by AZT, and polio is caused by DDT; “So when it comes to it, none of these viruses have been proven to exist”; terrain theory explains why diseases happen


An Instagram reel posted in February 2024 claimed that several viral diseases aren’t actually caused by viruses and that viruses don’t exist. Specifically, it claimed that herpes is caused by lack of collagen, flu is caused by salt imbalance, COVID-19 is caused by radiation, rabies doesn’t exist, HIV is caused by AZT, and polio is caused by DDT.

The reel was posted by Matt Roeske, who operates a company under the brand Cultivate Elevate that sells a variety of supplements and herbs that it claims can “boost the immune system” and offer “radioprotective effects”. The reel was viewed more than 130,000 times.

Other reels on Roeske’s account, which has more than 154,000 followers, also made other health-related claims, like alleging that laetrile—called vitamin B17 even though it’s not a vitamin—cures cancer (there’s no evidence for this and laetrile is dangerous) and that electromagnetic frequencies from cellphones are causing disease.

Several of the claims in the reel aren’t new and have been addressed before, and Roeske offered no evidence for his assertion that the diseases named weren’t caused by viruses, as this review will explain below.

The claim that polio is caused by the pesticide DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) isn’t new. It has been circulating since at least 2017 and has its origins in the anti-vaccine movement, as this Vaxopedia article explains. The claim argues that the true cause of polio is DDT poisoning, and that the eradication of polio was due to a DDT ban. This argument is then used to lay the groundwork for the claim that the polio vaccine doesn’t work.

However, polio existed before DDT was first synthesized in 1874. Descriptions of symptoms matching polio can be found in carvings from Ancient Egypt.

A common basis for this claim is a graph purportedly showing DDT use and polio cases in the U.S. to be correlated with each other between 1940 and 1970. However, as Vaxopedia pointed out, the peak use of DDT occurred in 1959 in the U.S. If DDT was the true cause of polio, we should have seen the highest number of cases in 1959, or later if there was a delayed effect. Yet the graph shows that the number of polio cases had already declined to one of the lowest points by 1959, following the introduction of the polio vaccine in 1955.

Health Feedback and several other fact-checking groups, including FactCheck.org, the Associated Press, and AFP, have also debunked this claim.

The claim that HIV is actually caused by zidovudine (AZT), the first antiretroviral drug used to treat HIV infection, is also an old one whose roots we can trace back to AIDS denialists who claimed that HIV doesn’t exist and that people who died of AIDS actually died of AZT toxicity.

This was also covered in an earlier Health Feedback review, which explained that the claim is rooted in baseless speculations of AIDS denialists and hasn’t been borne out by the evidence. Indeed, a study of HIV patients that began in 1988, called Concorde, looked at patients who received only AZT and patients who only received a placebo[1].

They found that AZT alone didn’t produce any meaningful improvement in mortality, but didn’t shorten patients’ lifespans either, something that would have occurred if the claim was true.

The claim that COVID-19 is caused by 5G is also not new. Health Feedback addressed this claim in 2020.

At the time the review was written, Brazil had no 5G coverage, but nevertheless ranked second in the world in terms of the total number of COVID-19 cases. Alsace in France was also heavily affected by COVID-19 early on, but had no 5G network. If the claim were true, we wouldn’t have seen regions with no 5G coverage become affected by COVID-19.

The claim that rabies hasn’t been proven to exist is simply false. The disease, which nearly always led to a grim death until the rabies vaccine was developed, has been recognized for roughly 4,000 years. Scientists have sequenced the genome of the rabies virus[2-4] and detected the presence of rabies virus using antibodies specific to the rabies virus using a technique called immunofluorescence.

Furthermore, pictures of the rabies virus obtained using a technique called electron microscopy can be seen on the websites of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the University of Texas Medical Branch.

Roeske offered no evidence to support the claims that herpes is due to a lack of collagen or that the flu is caused by salt imbalance.

Terrain theory doesn’t displace germ theory as an explanation for why diseases occur

The reel cited several publications, such as “The Contagion Myth” by Thomas Cowan, a former physician, which argue that viruses don’t cause disease and promote the terrain theory in lieu of germ theory.

The terrain theory, which can be traced back to French chemist Antoine Béchamp, has been used as a competing explanation with germ theory for why diseases occur. The terrain theory argues that diseases aren’t caused by germs, but by imbalances in the host organism resulting from lifestyle, such as nutritional deficiencies. As such, correcting the imbalance will cure the disease.

According to Popular Science:

“[Béchamp] believed that microorganisms are essentially benign, and that pathogens emerge when structures inside our cells, called microzymes, transform into bacteria in response to unhealthy environmental conditions—like tiny Dr. Jekylls transforming into Mr. Hydes. In other words, he believed that disease causes pathogens, and not the reverse.”

Health Feedback previously addressed a similar claim about terrain theory, explaining that the existence of microzymes has never been demonstrated and that viral infection demonstrably produces changes even in healthy cells that are consistent with disease.

Germ theory, on the other hand, argues that diseases can be caused by microorganisms. This theory was shaped and developed by the work of many scientists, including Louis Pasteur, whose experiments on fermentation demonstrated the existence of microorganisms.

Indeed, germ theory is key to our modern ability to prevent, diagnose, and treat infectious diseases. If germ theory didn’t hold true, things like the antibiotic penicillin and improvements in sanitation wouldn’t have led to the public health breakthroughs that they did.

This is not to say that the terrain theory is completely incorrect. Today, we know that malnutrition can indeed be the cause of certain diseases. For example, Vitamin C deficiency leads to scurvy, while a lack of thiamine (Vitamin B1) leads to beriberi, a disease that notably afflicted Spanish soldiers at the 1898 Siege of Baler during the Spanish-American War. Both diseases can be treated with timely supplementation of the missing nutrients.

However, the fact that some principles of the terrain theory explain why certain diseases occur doesn’t mean that germ theory is wrong. Diseases can result from infectious and non-infectious causes. Our understanding of diseases and how to treat them draws on the principles of both theories. The denial of germ theory espoused in the Instagram reel lends users an incorrect understanding of how diseases occur and can be potentially dangerous if it leads them to reject proven treatments and preventative measures.



Published on: 15 Feb 2024 | Editor:

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