The 1918 Influenza Pandemic
Over one hundred years ago, the outbreak of the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic began. This mini-gallery provides a brief overview of the pandemic and features an interview with Alvan Barach, MD who treated patients with influenza and pneumonia during the 1918-1919 pandemic.
In many communities, masks were required to be worn while using public transportation such as trains and street cars or whenever one was outside one's residence. Churches, schools, theaters, and other sites where the general public assembled were closed down at various times during the cycles of the influenza pandemic.
The majority of influenza cases in the USA occur in the fall and winter seasons.
Barring complications, Influenza usually last less than two weeks.
Although sometimes called the Spanish flu, the virus did not originate in Spain. During WWI, Spain was neutral so did not have media blackouts like those countries actively fighting did. Therefore, when Spain reported on the influenza virus affecting its residents while other countries hid that news, people erroneously assumed the influenza pandemic originated in Spain.
During the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic, many communities required their employees and residents to wear a mask when in public places.
The incidence of those infected with the 1918-1919 influenza virus was much higher among those aged 20-40 years than normal and the mortality rate among that same age group was also higher than in the very young or the elderly populations.
In this photo that appeared in an article in "The Silver Chev" in June 15, 1919, it was reported that over 4,000 soldiers had been treated at Camp Grant in Rockford, Illinois during the influenza pandemic. The convalescent wards, corridors, porches, and tents were filled with soldiers.
Due to the high mortality rate, resources were extremely scarce in many communities to deal with the large number of deceased in a short period. Some communities resorted to burial in mass graves. As a result, there are no grave markers, headstones, or burial records for a large number of those who died during the influenza outbreak.
Oxygen was rarely administered to patients at the time of the pandemic.
Around the time of the influenza outbreak, John Haldane designed a mask to administer oxygen to WWI soldiers affected by poisonous gases on the battlefields but such devices weren't available in the hospitals and makeshift infirmaries set up to treat those dying from pulmonary complications that followed the influenza. Dr. Alvan Barach indicated that during his internship between 1918-1919, he used a funnel to administer oxygen to those who were near death from influenza complications.
This ad appeared in the March 3, 1920 issue of the Rock Island Argus, a newspaper published in Rock Island, Illinois.
The information for this slide was presented by Dr. David Morens in a videocast: "The Mother of All Pandemics and Her Naughty Children" presented April 10, 2018 as the NIAID's 2018 John Ring LaMontagne Memorial Lecture.