January 11, 2018
The Horrific Event of The 1918 Influenza
Early 1900’s a tragic influenza struck the globe, killing millions in its path. The horrific event caused millions to suffer horrendous symptoms from what is known as, The Blue Death. The deadliest Influenza in modern history appeared in 1918 and drug on into 1919, lasting about a year. It is still unsure the origin of the illness, but some think that some of the early signs were first seen in Europe (history.com Staff). Soldiers were thought to be a source of spreading the disease as they returned home from war (Vergano). Many of the Influenza victims were young, healthy adults, generally the least susceptible to this type of illness (history.com Staff). Approximately one-third of the population developed the critical disease and the estimated death was 50 million people, but could be up to 100 million deaths. The Influenza struck in three waves around the world, each with varying intensities (Taubenberger and Morenst).
The Influenza hit in multiple places around the world in waves. The Influenza would simmer down in an area only to be relit in a more devastating manner. The first wave occurred in spring of 1918 and was first observed in Europe. The first wave was considered mild and included symptoms such as; chills, fever, and fatigue. The second wave occurred in fall of 1918, which was mostly in America. The second wave of the deadly disease was more contagious and victims would die only hours after the first sign of symptoms (history.com Staff). The third wave occurred in January of 1919 mostly in Spain, killing less than the second wave, with symptoms similar to the second wave (Radusin 9).
Symptoms of the pandemic varied with the three waves and locations of the activity. As mentioned prior, in the first wave symptoms included; chills, fever, and fatigue, victims often recovered in just a few days, keeping mortality rates low in the first wave. With medical staff being infected themselves, there was limited medical attention for the suffering victims. During the second wave the symptoms increased as well as worsened and were much more contagious. A carrier that coughed, sneezed, or talked released “respiratory droplets” into the air for anyone around to breathe the droplets in and become infected. Victims of the second wave died within days, possibly hours of the first symptoms. The mortality rate rose tremendously during the second wave of the pandemic (history.com Staff). The second wave victims experienced deep brown spots on the cheek, along with fluids filling the lungs causing miserable suffocation. Their body would start to turn blue, starting at the ears, due to lack of oxygen in the blood and victims would often cough up a “pinkish froth as they fought to inhale” (Galvin). Blood poured from noses, ears, and eye sockets throughout the second wave, although uncommon (Alchin). The second wave mortality count reached approximately 147,000. The third wave took fewer lives than the second, but victims were still dying. The last wave of the pandemic attacked in specific areas rather than all around the world, similar to the other waves, overall taking approximately 21,000 lives throughout the last wave (Radusin 9).
The 1918 Influenza brought many people to a very low point in their lives. The home remedies to cure the disease, placements of caskets, casket alternatives, not feeding the infected, et cetera; proves how people had to change to survive. One horrid home remedy used to cure the flu included: a teaspoon of sugar with turpentine, kerosene, or poultices made from goose grease, and onions, all tied in a piece of red flannel and placed on the chest, showing the ends that people traveled to to try to cure the Influenza (Kreiser). Another home remedy was to gurgle salt along with baking soda in water (Alchin). The placements of caskets, or the burial of the suffered, got complex as there were too many bodies to be dealt with. Sometimes, bodies were put in caskets for the family to bury on their own, bodies were buried by their family without a casket, bodies were even stored in stacks of caskets in garages or stacked lacking a casket. Often bodies were taken out of caskets so that the caskets could be sold and used again. Few got a funeral and if so, it likely would have been shared with other families. One casket alternative was a macaroni box that held 20 pounds of pasta and was large enough to fit a small child. Louise Apuchase, a survivor, tells a story of a time she remembers, she states that when people died they were to be wrapped in a sheet and placed in a patrol wagon. Apuchase remembers a seven or eight year old boy dying and hearing the mother and father scream, “Let me get a macaroni box” (Hardy). When diagnosed with the Spanish flu some doctors recommended to the parents that it was no longer a necessity to feed the child. Proven by a non listed survivor, whom said, “I was very sick … the doctor told my mother it wasn’t necessary to feed me anymore” (Kreiser). Survivor, Loretta Jarussi, was interviewed in 1982. She told the interviewer that her dad didn’t feel well, but doctors couldn’t find symptoms so her father went weeks without diagnosis. Her father survived after being put into a coma, she says that, “it took two year to get over that”. Jarussi states that her mother had thought that her husband had died. Her father told them he wanted to go to the hot springs to see if he would feel better, but it was said that if someone went to the springs they would come home in a box (Montana Historical Society Staff).
The virus had an incubation period of 24 to 72 hours, meaning that a person who showed no symptoms could pass on the virus. The virus could survive in the air for up to 24 hours; the lower the humidity of the air was, the longer the virus lasted (Kreiser). The Influenza affected young healthy adults the most, even though that was typically the least common age group to be affected by diseases such as thee (Anirudh). The war helped the Influenza spread, as the soldiers came home they spread it to their families (Byrely). On March 4, 1918, the Army installation at Camp Funston Kan., reported a single case of the influenza. Before the end of the month, 1,100 men had been hospitalized in which 20 percent developed pneumonia. The rapid spreading of the disease caused many doctors, nurses, civilians, and soldiers to catch on very fast and spread it to someone else before even knowing they had it (Kreiser). Animals helped spread the disease as they would catch it and spread it to humans (Alchin). An official notice was sent out in October of 1918 stating that, “all public places where people assemble are closed.” The official notice included schools, all places of amusement, dance halls, pool rooms, churches, Sunday schools, lodges, conventions, et cetera. The order became effective at noon, Thursday, October 10, 1918. The notice applied to everyone in the city of Pullman and was lifted when all signs of the epidemic had passed (Gilleland). Authority told the people to stay outside to breathe fresh air and the people were supposed to breathe through their nose instead of their mouths. Some states were even required to wear masks and in large cities people were given a fine or sent to jail if they didn’t cover their mouths when they coughed. Another statement made to help stop the spreading of the Influenza was that all linen should have been cleaned by boiling water to rid of the bacteria and sanitize the linen (Alchin).
Many brave people passed during the Pandemic including many valiant nurses and doctors, civilians, brave soldiers, along with many more undeserving people. Doctors during this time in history could identify that the disease was killing the victims, but could not provide antibiotics to help the patients (Byerly 1-10). The Influenza killed more people in 24 weeks than AIDS had in 24 years. The pandemic killed more than all the wars of the 20th century combined. Some refer to the 1918 Influenza as the greatest medical holocaust in history (Anirudh). Many children were orphaned as their families died and many young adults, who were otherwise healthy, passed away during the horrendous pandemic (Stern 2). There are many that lived to tell the stories of the pandemic, one of which was Marie Louise Hidell, who was a nurse through the pandemic for American Red Cross, she was assigned to the Philadelphia Naval Hospital, which Philadelphia was the hardest hit city in America. In a four week span 12,000 people had died from the Influenza. She developed the disease after an evening where 188 sailors that were sick with the “purple death” were admitted and she was to care for them (“Marie Louise Hidell”). The townsmen came together during this time to try to help others, on December 15, 1918 a holiday dance was announced and was to be on December 27, 1918. Even with the Influenza ban, a group of high school boys put together a dance that would be held at the Knights of Columbus Hall. The proceeds were to be donated to the United War Fund. The high school boys wanted to create a benefit, the boys represented each high school in the city and donations would have been made out to the name of each high school that participated (Milwaukee Sentinel Staff).
Although the origin is not completely known there are many logical possible causes. Some think that the 1918 Influenza started from the event of the Chinese Labor Corps, which shipped 94,000 laborers, this spread diseases in the sealed rail cars. Another possible source was wartime trenches, they were often viewed as the “flu’s breeding ground.” The trenches were filthy, many people had diseases, and many people died in them. The survivors were thought to have the incredibly contagious disease to their family and friends in their hometowns, who would then pass it on to more people, creating a chain reaction (Vergano). As stated by Kreiser many wrongly assumed that the Influenza started in Spain. Kreiser explains that eight million became ill during a wave of a milder Influenza (the first wave) in the spring of 1918. Spain was neutral and the press was uncensored during the war. Kreiser tells that Spain was one of the few places in Europe that epidemic ness was being reported. Commander Erich Von Ludenorff blamed the disease for the failure of Germany’s major spring offensive. “It was a grievous business, ” Commander Erich Von Ludenorff states, “having to listen every morning to the chiefs of staff’s recital of the number of influenza cases, and their complaints about the weakness of their troops” (Kreiser 24).
The economy suffered severely through this time as laborers passed from the disease. Factories had to close because of the sickened workers and farmers couldn’t harvest their crops because they were infected or had passed (Alchin). In an interview with Teamus Bartley we see that with so many people sick there were few jobs that have workers. Bartley was a Kentucky coal miner during the Influenza and tells an interviewer, “The mines had to shut down there wasn’t a nary a man, there wasn’t a, there wasn’t a mine arunnin’ a lump of coal or runnin’ no work. Stayed that away for about six weeks” (University of Kentucky).
Some of the victims of the Influenza included Navy Nurses, some of these nurses were awarded the World War I Victory Medals. The nurses that achieved this medal include: Eloy Ben-Blow, Theresa Burmeister, Theodosia Burnett, Drusilla Casterline, Maude E. Coleman, Anna M. Dahlby, Bride M. Flannery, Victoria R. Good, Marie L. Hidell, Agnes Hogan, Edith E. Kokanson, Harriet K. Kavanagh, Elizabeth K. Kirb, Emma Kotte, Constance Martin, Alice Lea, Ethel McLanahan, Jane Mercer, Mildred A. Metcalf, Lillian M. Murphy, Helen V. Orchard, Garnett Olive Peck, Edna E. Place, Vera M. Rockwell, Laura H. Schneiberg, Amber R. Story, Myrtle E. Grant, Alice L. Thompson, Marion Pearl Turner, Marie E. Trimble, Amy Trechler, and Rose Kirkwood Young (Influenza of 1918 (Spanish Flu) and the US Navy).
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