Spanish Flu Pandemic - MORE BAD NEWS

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Cartoon from the 1918-19 Spanish-Flu era, originally published in the New York World and more recently included in an article published in Navy Medicine (May-June 1986 issue).  Image online, courtesy Library of Congress.


Harry Truman, the future president, was serving with U.S. forces in France when he heard that his fiancé, Bess Wallace, had the “flu.” Expressing joy that she was on the mend, Truman voiced what was on the minds of people everywhere. He hoped that the “flu” will “be an unheard of ailment from this time forward.”

That wish would not come true.  The following are just a few examples of flu-devastated America:

  • Red Cross workers, providing food to a Charlotte, North Carolina family “all down with the flu,” wore face masks to protect themselves from the virus. When they arrived at the home, the workers learned the mother had just died.
  • In October of 1918, when the disease was at its worst, some newspapers observed that more whites than blacks were struck down. That experience did not seem universal, however. Howard University, in Washington, D.C. was shut down for a period of time in October, 1918.
  • The flu epidemic also hit the Inuit (Eskimos) of Alaska where it killed about 60% of the population. Dr. Henry Greist was the only physician for a thousand miles. He wrote an account of the devastating effects of flu on the local population.
  • When an Armistice was suddenly announced, on 11 November 1918, people thought the worst of the flu epidemic, like the war, was finally over. Monstrous crowds (such as those in Philadelphia and Chicago) gathered to celebrate. Some individuals (like those in the forefront of a gathering at Chicago’s Art Institute) wore surgical masks to ward off the virus. The disease spread anyway.
  • Ten days later, on November 21st, San Francisco city officials sounded the flu “all-clear” siren. (By then, 2,122 San Franciscans had died from influenza and its complications.) Despite that all-clear signal, five thousand more San Francisco cases were reported in December.

Another catastrophe, in 1919, was kept from the American people. President Woodrow Wilson (who had survived a bout of flu himself) suffered a massive, partially paralyzing stroke. He never completely recovered. Later, when the truth came out, people said that Edith Wilson had served as America’s first female president.

At the time, no one knew what had caused Spanish Influenza. There appeared to be no cure. Since then, scientists have looked for answers. An Inuit Eskimo woman, buried in Alaska's permafrost, and two American soldiers—whose flu-infected tissue samples were preserved in paraffin for 80 years—may have given recent researchers a breakthrough.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5197stories and lessons created

Original Release: Mar 01, 2006

Updated Last Revision: Mar 13, 2020

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"MORE BAD NEWS" AwesomeStories.com. Mar 01, 2006. Jun 06, 2020.
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