Spanish Flu and Dr. Victor Vaughan

Spanish Flu and Dr. Victor Vaughan Disasters History Medicine Social Studies Tragedies and Triumphs

During September of 1918, Dr. Victor Vaughan - former president of the American Medical Association and then-dean of the Medical School at the University of Michigan - was summoned to try and figure out why so many people were getting the flu - and dying from it.  During the course of his investigation, he observed many sobering situations and reached several startling conclusions:

The saddest part of my life was when I witnessed the hundreds of deaths of the soldiers in the Army camps and did not know what to do. At that moment I decided never again to prate about the great achievements of medical science and to humbly admit our dense ignorance in this case.

At Camp Devens, where he saw many sick soldiers, Vaughan noted:

I saw hundreds of young stalwart men in uniform coming into the wards of the hospital. Every bed was full, yet others crowded in. The faces wore a bluish cast; a cough brought up the blood-stained sputum.

While most flu viruses attack the very old or the very young, this strain took aim at those in the prime of life:

This infection, like war, kills the young, vigorous, robust adults....The husky male either made a speedy and rather abrupt recovery or was likely to die.

During the late fall of 1918, flu continued unabated.  Cutting down people in cities, towns and villages, people were dying at staggering rates.  Vaughan was aghast:

If the epidemic continues its mathematical rate of acceleration, civilization could easily disappear from the face of the earth.

Then ... the influenza left as mysteriously as it had arrived.  At the end of the day, Vaughan made an honest assessment about modern medicine's ability to deal with the crisis:

[Doctors of the day] knew no more about the flu than 14th century Florentines had known about Black Death.

Media Credits

Quoted passages from "Influenza 1918," online courtesy PBS.

Image online, courtesy U.S. National Archives.


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"Spanish Flu and Dr. Victor Vaughan" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Feb 20, 2020.
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