Friday, November 26, 2010

The Influenza Pandemic of 1918

The life and times of my Mother and Fathers’ generation was filled with so many stupendous life-changing disasters that the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 has become less than a blip on the radar.

The speed of this pandemic, so deadly, striking so quickly and disappearing as quickly (it lasted about 18 months), made it easier to forget the proportions of the tragedy it inflicted.

But the shortest stroll through any cemetery of that day reveals the flotsam of family tragedies marked by the headstones of young adults. “Rebecca Morris..1895-1918 “Mother and Wife.” “Jerome Patterson… Beloved Son..1902-1918” and on and on.

In the United States about 28% of the population suffered, and 500,000 to 675,000 died.

Kansas City and St.Louis, Missouri were particularly hard hit.

State officials first reported on the presence of influenza in Missouri on October 11, 1918. However, influenza had appeared in the state long before that date. By the third week of October, 3,765 influenza cases and 90 deaths had been reported from St. Louis, with 558 cases and 13 deaths being reported for October 16th alone. State officials, however, rarely had access to accurate figures and the actual number of cases and deaths was probably higher than that.

On October 24th, state officials maintained that "conditions are either stationary or improving" in the state. But on October 25th, the situation took a turn for the worse. Influenza began spreading into rural districts. Between October 26th and 28th, the situation continued to be dire, with rural and urban areas across the state reporting high numbers of cases and deaths.

This Pandemic, targeting the future of populations by striking hardest in the young adult age group, is seldom even regarded when considering the devastations of a worldwide drought, the worldwide economic collapse and two world wars.

Yet the loss of so many in their most productive years must have left a gap. So many orphans, so many unformed families, so many crippled lives, so many losses. And as in all losses, the true cost is never known because it IS lost..not to be regained.

I have spoken to adults left orphaned by this disaster. Their lives, and the lives of those who took them in, were altered and invariably diminished. Being an orphan in the first half of the 20th century was not an easy thing.

If a Pandemic of this proportion struck today the world would be in an uproar.


Great Resistance From Troops Against Vaccinations:

"Camp Dodge, Iowa, May 1.—Elmer N. Olson, of Goodrich, Minn., a soldier in training here, refused to submit to vaccination. He was tried by general court-martial and sentenced to fifteen years in the disciplinary barracks at Fort Leavenworth."

1918-19 Influeza in Great Britain: survivor statement as an adult.

In early 1919 my father, not yet demobilized, came on one of his regular, probably irregular, furloughs to Carisbrook Street to find both my mother and sister dead. The Spanish Influenza pandemic had struck Harpurhey. There was no doubt of the existence of a God: only the supreme being could contrive so brilliant an afterpiece to four years of unprecedented suffering and devastation. I apparently, was chuckling in my cot while my mother and sister lay dead on a bed in the same room.

Winston Churchill:

on the Influenza Epidemic of 1890

“For though it ravaged far and wide

Both village, town and countryside,

Its power to kill was o’er;

And with the favouring winds of Spring

(Blest is the time of which I sing)

It left our native shore.”

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