Spanish Influenza Epidemic in 1918 Part 2

About the Spanish Influenza Epidemic in 1918, the history of the disease that struck millions throughout the world.


A Public health official in Virginia said it was caused by a tiny living poisonous plant called "the germ of influenza." Dr. Louis Dechmann of Seattle called it a negative disease, and recommended as treatment an abdomen pack of towels soaked in hot vinegar.

Churchless Sundays became the norm. Industries, businesses, and stores went on half-day work schedules. Theaters and meeting places closed their doors. Quackery throve. The marketplace became flooded with "sure cure" remedies.

From every city and hamlet suggestions poured into the War Dept. A Kansas man, Joseph Peloquin, wired: "Rinse the mouth with lime water and go to bed." Dr. Charles E. Page, a Boston physician, stated: "Influenza is caused chiefly by excessive clothing." Despite the recommendations of doctors and home-remedy specialists, the death toll mounted. Though the epidemic was of catastrophic proportions, humor was not absent. This little jingle headed the list: "I had a little bird and his name was Enza. I opened the door and in flew Enza."

By early October the flu epidemic had accomplished what the military might of Germany couldn't. Country after country had its back against the wall. In Philadelphia the death rate was 700% above normal, and rising. Military camps, in the U.S., were reporting a death every hour. Draft calls were stopped when the toll of servicemen reached 7,000. Britain reported 2,000 deaths per week. India lost a total of 12.5 million. The U.S. lost 500,000.

Only one small area in the world escaped: the tiny island of Tristan da Cunha, between Brazil and Cape Town. There was no logical explanation. Then in November, with the signing of the Armistice that marked the end of W.W.I, the epidemic ceased as suddenly as it had started. The final world death count, 21,640,000.

Aftermath: It wasn't until the 1930s and the invention of the electron microscope that the cause of influenza focused on a minute virus that resembled a cottonball. Thirty million could congregate, uncrowded, on the head of a pin.

Since that day in November of 1918, the killer virus Spanish influenza hasn't been heard from. Where did it come from and where did it go? This mystery remains unsolved.

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