This and That — Spanish Flu, a pandemic of 1918

Flu outbreaks happen every year and vary in severity; depending on what type of virus is spreading, this year is reported to be quite severe. ”Flu season” usually runs from late fall into spring and in a typical year, an average of 200,000 Americans are hospitalized and in the past three decades some 3,000 to 49,000 flu-related deaths happen annually in the U.S.

The first wave of the 1918 pandemic started in Haskell County, Kansas, in January 1918, prompting local doctor Loring Miner to warn the U.S. Public Health Service’s academic journal. On 4 March 1918, company cook Albert Gitchell reported sick at Fort Riley, Kansas. By noon on 11 March 1918, over 100 soldiers were in the hospital. Within days, 522 men at the camp had reported sick. By 11 March 1918, the virus had reached Queens, New York. It was considered generally mild, with typical flu symptoms. However, a second, highly contagious wave of influenza appeared with a vengeance in the fall of 1918. Victims died within hours or days of their symptoms appearing, their skin turning blue and their lungs filling with fluid that caused them to suffocate.

In August 1918, the more virulent strain appeared simultaneously in Brest, France; in Freetown, Sierra Leone; and in Boston, Massachusetts. The Spanish flu also spread through Ireland, carried there by returning Irish soldiers. The Allies of World War I came to call it the Spanish flu, primarily because the pandemic received greater press attention after it moved from France to Spain in November 1918.

This pandemic has been described as “the greatest medical holocaust in history” and may have killed more people than the Black Death. It is said that this flu killed more people in 24 weeks than AIDS killed in 24 years, and more in a year than the Black Death killed in a century.

DELPHOS IS SERIOUS

DELPHOS — Spanish Flu is spreading in Delphos more rapidly than in Lima, and according to reports made to the health officer there were 56 new cases Monday and 80 cases yesterday. The condition of patients is also reported critical, two deaths occurring yesterday. Mrs. Ann Conley as head of the Woman’s Benefit association, has started a movement to aid in stamping out the epidemic thru preventive precautions.

(printed 16 October 1918 “Lima News”)

When the 1918 flu hit, doctors and scientist were unsure what caused it or ho to treat it. Officials imposed quarantines and ordered citizens to wear masks. Some of the preventive precautions were “That until the further order of the board no persons shall enter, congregate or be or remain in any moving picture show, theater, street car, barber shop, saloons, club rooms, lodge rooms, churches, schools, store room or business room used for retail or wholesale of merchandise or other goods or effects without having on or keeping on a mask. This requirement shall further apply to all railroad and interurban ticket agents and persons assembled for any purpose whatsoever of a private or public nature indoors.” Restaurants and hotel dining room patrons must wear masks until they are served with the food and are ready to eat, and must don them immediately after the meal is finished. Barber shop patrons must wear masks until they are in the chair and the barber is ready to attend them. Mail carriers in the down town section of the city who go in and out of buildings must wear masks. Deliverymen employed in any class of business come under the same rules. Anyone found not wearing masks will be arrested and fined.”

“FLU” MORE DEADLY THAN GERMAN BULLETS

WASHINGTON — The “flu” killed more Americans than did German bullets. Influenza deaths in the United States of America have been estimated at slightly over 82,000, while deaths listed in American causalities to date run about 28,000.

(printed 18 November 1918 “Lima News”)

By the summer of 1919, the pandemic came to an end, as those that were infected either died or developed immunity. Some 90 years later in 2008, researchers announced the discovery of what made the 1918 flu so deadly. A group of three genes enabled the virus to weaken a victim’s bronchial tubes and lungs and clear the way for bacterial pneumonia. That’s why the 1918 flu struck down so many healthy, young people — a group normally resistant to this type of infectious illness. In just one year, 1918, the average life expectancy in America dropped by a dozen years.