Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Spanish Influenza Outbreak

Emergency Hospitals
 While it only receives a footnote in our History books, the Spanish Influenza Outbreak of 1918 and 1919 killed more people than were killed in fighting in WW I.  Current estimates of the final death tally range from 20-40 million deaths.

Play Ball!
 675,000 Americans died of the influenza virus -- ten times as many as were killed in the war.  And whether in America, or elsewhere, the symptoms and effects were the same.  Unlike normal flu, which usually affects the very young, or the very old, the primary victims in this case were ages 21 - 29 -- a group usually only lightly affected by diseases like this.  Also, the disease was brutal.  Massive fever would be followed by bloody noses.  Their body would turn bruised as the cells ruptured.  Eventually the victims' would suffer bloody pneumonia.

Stories Abound of the horrors of the disease.
  • 4 women were playing bridge:  By the next day 3 were dead of the disease.
  • A woman's fever got so high her hair tuned white -- but at least she lived. 
  • Steam Shovels were being used to dig mass graves

Day to Day life

It may have originated in China, or perhaps America;  In the early 1900's the study of disease was primitive, and virus' like those that caused the flu were too small to see with contemporary technology.

It was called the Spanish Flu because one of the noted early outbreaks was in Spain.   Whatever it's origin, the flu's brutal nature and worldwide status filled people with dread.  Irrational ideas abounded; it could be prayed away or it was German Gas warfare.  While these may have been silly ideas, this is not a silly thought:

Had the epidemic not ended, it's pace of infection, and high fatality rate were such that many felt that the population of the world was at risk.  It's effects were monumental.  Why it is so poorly remembered is as mysterious as it's origins.


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