Here is Part 2 of blogpost on the Pandemic of 1918.
Living in the 21st century we take the scientific and medical wonders of our age for granted. Let us return to the year 1918 when the deadliest influenza pandemic in history, the Spanish Flu, rampages around the globe killing in massive numbers.
The “Spanish lady”, as it is morbidly nicknamed, focuses its attack on young adults age 21 to 34 years of age and children. The elderly escape for the most part, seemingly because of some immunity from previous flu viruses.
The Influenza of 1918 is a killer virus that attacks the respiratory system and saps the immune system. Most deaths result from complications such as pneumonia. An affected person exhibits symptoms in the morning, is sick by noon, and dies before nightfall.
The healthcare system of 1918 is drastically different than the one we live in today. Hospitals are small and located in larger centers. Few doctors and nurses are available especially in those smaller communities. Antibiotics to fight infection from flu complications such as pneumonia do not exist. Flu vaccines do not exist. The initial first step in the creation of a vaccine, the isolation of human influenza viruses, does not occur until 1933. Even if the vaccines existed in 1918, the public health system did not have a distribution system to deliver vaccine to the populace.
Quarantine is the normal preventative measure implemented by health authorities. In this case it fails. The mailman continues to deliver the mail, the milkman keeps delivering milk door-to-door effectively circumventing the isolation of the victims and unknowingly spreading the disease from house to house.
People desperately seek remedies or cures. Many of these concoctions are cooked at home on the stove, then dispensed to the family members. Some of the more exotic ones include,
- Drinking alcohol
- Smoking opium
- Tobacco smoking
- Ingesting tiny amounts of strychnine (a deadly poison)
- Sipping kerosene
- Drinking cinnamon with tea or coffee
- Eating red-pepper sandwiches
- Drinking something called Bulgarian blood tea
- A mixture of cinnamon, tobacco, alcohol, goose grease, and turpentine
- According to one belief, the steel particles in a shotgun placed under a victim’s bed would draw out the fever.
Preventative measures to stop the spread of the disease also involved a myriad of strange steps.
- The wearing of surgical masks. There was much controversy as to the effectiveness of these. These were just loosely fitting cloth unlike today’s tight fitting sanitary versions
- Tin drinking cups in public places replaced by disposable paper ones.
- Smoked herrings worn around the neck.
- Bags of garlic were hung around children’s necks to keep the disease away.
- Sulphur sprinkled in shoes.
- Vinegar packs tied to stomachs
- Cucumber slices tied to ankles.
- Carrying a potato in each pocket.
- Breathing through the nose.
- Chewing food well
- Avoiding the wearing of tight-fitting clothes, shoes and gloves.
- Bodies of victims are buried covered in raw, sliced onions from head to toe.
- Voodoo charms along with chants of, “Sour, sour, vinegar V, keep the sickness off of me.”
The scientific community of 1918 struggled to provide an answer, so society sought its own solutions, however weird. Statistics are not available concerning the success or lack of success for these cures and preventative measures. In point of fact they did nothing to alleviate the pain and suffering.
Make sure you and yours take advantage of the modern miracle of a vaccine. There is no excuse. It will help protect you and others. Our ancestors living in 1918 died for lack of a vaccine.