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1918 Flu Pandemic

Posted by Kathy G on 2/11/04 at 10:20 (144086)

I just read that there's a new book out on the 1918 Flu pandemic. I'm just curious. For those of you my age (young), do any of you remember your parents talking about that period?

The first book I read about it came out a few years ago and it was astounding to me that this epidemic isn't reported in our history books. It took the lives of young adults. More people died from September to December of 1918 than have died from AIDS since 1979.

Here we were in the midst of a war, and our military was being wiped out by this horrible illness. They said that it started at Fort Devens, MA in the first book I read but this author apparently thinks it started in rural Kansas. I plan to read the book when our library gets it.

My mother talked about it. She was only three or four at the time and her entire family got it. She lived in an Irish neighborhood in South Lawrence, MA, and she remembered the neighbors sliding food through the pantry window so that they wouldn't starve. No one came near them although ultimately most of the neighbors got it. She remembered being surprised that her mother let all the dishes pile high in the pantry sink because that was so unlike her.

Her parents made verbal arrangements for the family doctor to adopt her because they were so critically ill. She remembered riding in the doctor's carriage as he went from house to house, calling on the ill. She also remembers his big house, which in her mind was a mansion, his wife, and the fact that they had a grand piano. They were much older than her parents, had no children, and she liked them but had no inkling that the reason she was spending so much time with them was because her family was dying. They were among the lucky; they did pull through and she wasn't adopted.

Did any of your parents mention this period to you? It just amazes me that so little has been written about it.

Re: 1918 Flu Pandemic

Dorothy on 2/11/04 at 11:08 (144093)

Yes, indeed, it is part of my family's lore, but because of my husband's family, not my own family of origin. His grandfather, his father's father, died in the epidemic and left eight children and his wife without any material resources. They did have a great resource in the strength and courage of their mother, his widow, because she kept that family together and healthy through her own - and the children's - sheer hard work and will.The children were very young when their father died. My husband's father was working full-time when he was just a child - seriously. Those children, and especially my husband's father, did not have a childhood because they had to work and help support the family, but they are all marvelous storytellers and to hear them talk, hardship wasn't even part of their experience, just fodder for their stories. They are a wonderful family. They became a most wonderful lot of human beings, in spite of all that their family went through.

You are so right that it is a most fascinating story and one that has not gotten much attention, except in family histories, until fairly recently. With release of several books over maybe the past 5-8 years or so (like 'The Coming Plague', for example), the 1918 influenza pandemic began to get more attention. Did you see the PBS documentary related to the book of the same name, 'Influenza'? It is a video available for sale at http://www.pbs.org and is a good accompaniment to the book.

I just read fairly recently that some scientists - I think in Los Angeles/not sure though - have samples from lung tissue from victims of the 1918 influenza epidemic and they are examining it for comparison to current, known viruses.

Re: 1918 Flu Pandemic

Lari S on 2/11/04 at 12:16 (144104)

I had never heard of it. My parents were born in 1931, but have never mentioned it as part of family history. Thanks for the info. I'll have to check it out when it gets to the library.
Lari

Re: 1918 Flu Pandemic

Ellen J. on 2/11/04 at 16:49 (144113)

My grandmother talked about it alot, and the fear it generated stayed with her for the rest of her life. She came to live with our family when she was very elderly and each time one of us coughed she would ask, 'what's that cough all about?'. She said she still worried that someone near and dear to her would catch that flu. She almost lost her husband (my grandfather) to it, but he did survive by some miracle. The book sounds like it would be interesting to read.
Ellen

Re: 1918 Flu Pandemic

Suzanne D. on 2/11/04 at 17:06 (144117)

My parents were born in the early '20's, and I never heard my grandparents talk about the flu epidemic. I heard quite a bit about a big flood (in the 30's maybe?) and also tuberculosis. All my mother's mother's family died of t.b. except her. She lost her mother and father and all brothers and sisters by the time she was grown. She often talked about how sad it was that all their things had to be burned in the yard after they got sick, so she had nothing - not even a photograph - to remember them by.

The book sounds very interesting. Thanks for mentioning it, Kathy.

Suzanne :)

Re: Flu shots

Necee on 2/12/04 at 02:12 (144149)

And speaking of the flu.....I'm curious as to how many got the flu shot this year.

I didn't, and I've never had the flu......oh! I better knock on wood!!!

Necee

Re: Flu shots

Julie on 2/12/04 at 02:21 (144151)

I'd never had a flu jab before this year, Necee, but was persuaded by one of my students who works in public health that it is a Good Thing to do, so I did it. The serum is developed anew each year before the flu season to deal with whatever strain of the virus happens to be around. Unfortunately it doesn't cope with the new bird flu virus that's threatening to turn into the next pandemic, but they say that if you've had a flu jab and you get it, the symptoms won't be as bad.
.

Re: Flu shots

Julie on 2/12/04 at 02:23 (144152)

Our posts were posted nine minutes apart. You are up late, Necee, not having gone to bed yet, and I'm up and on the computer, and it's tomorrow already. Strange. Small world.
.

Re: Flu shots

Kathy G on 2/12/04 at 08:59 (144156)

Yes, Julie, I always get a flu shot as does my entire family. Because of our prediliction for upper respiratory infections, we are considered high risk and even on the years when the vaccine is scarce, we get them. The only time I remember getting the flu was when I was eight years old, so it must have been 1957 or so. It was the year of the 'Asiatic flu' and it was quite a bad outbreak in MA where I lived at the time. I missed a whole month of school.

Since then, if I get sick during flu season, it's never been classified as the flu but just my usual URI which I get all year round, off and on. Yes, I'm knocking on wood as I write this!!!;)

Some interesting family histories here. Imagine losing one's husband and raising eight children all alone! Sounds like they had happy childhoods though, doesn't it? Some people are so remarkable. And to lose one's entire family to TB! How hard that must have been.

I did watch the PBS documentary and it was excellent, I thought. I still can't get over the fact that more wasn't made of the whole thing in the past. We even heard the folk lore of 'Typhoid Mary' in school, but never the story of this influenza pandemic.

Yes, Suzanne, there were floods in 1936, I think, following a hurricane. I have pictures of my grandparents' house and the roads were like rivers with people getting around in boats. They had warning that the river was rising and most people moved their important belongings out of their basements. My grandfather, an ornery, intimidating man, swore that no river was going to come into his house and wouldn't let his family move a thing. As a result, we have no pictures of my mother's family before 1936 and no pictures, or whatever they used in those days, of my grandparents' families in Ireland.

Re: Flu shots

john h on 2/12/04 at 09:23 (144160)

Something that has virtually disappeared since I was a child is the 'Quarintine' signs that were on many doors of homes for all sorts of diseases such as smallpox,chickenpox,measles,etc. The city or some public health agency must have placed them on these homes.

Re: Flu shots

john h on 2/12/04 at 09:31 (144162)

The flu virus that is used these days is not a live virus and cannot give you the flu from the data I have read. At one time a live virus was used.I have gotten the flu shot since they began to give flu shots. The flu still kills thousands of people and probably less than 50% of Americans get the flu shot even though most people can get the shot for free or for $5.00 In most cases even if the vaccine that is used is not the flu you get it will lessen the symptoms.

Re: Flu shots

Kathy G on 2/12/04 at 09:42 (144165)

I'll have to ask my friends who teach, John, although we have teachers right here who will tell us how it works now when a child gets a communicable disease. I remember my dad talking about those quarantine signs that the town would put on the doors. He and his brother and sisters all got whooping cough at the same time. Of all the childhood diseases, he said that was the worst for him.

When I was in high school, my sister got scarlet fever. That must have been in 1965. I can remember being mortified at being called out of class and sent home, without my books, because the school nurse had found out my sister had scarlet fever. She was furious at me for being there and I hadn't a clue that I wasn't supposed to be! My mother was in the hospital at the time and I had been caring for my sister and had called the pediatrician and said I thought she had scarlet fever. I remember the doctor talking to me on the phone and saying, 'Yes, that's what she's got.' I explained to him that I was sixteen and was holding a copy of Dr. Spock as I spoke to him and I demanded that he see her.

As my father couldn't get out of work, I took her via taxi to the doctor's. We were shuttled into the communicable disease room which would have guaranteed that if you didn't have one when you went in, you would when you came out! He finally saw her and confirmed she had scarlet fever. He never once mentioned that I had to be quarantined.

I never got Scarlet Fever but I was way behind in my school work since I wasn't allowed to bring my books home. I suspect that the town was over-reacting but maybe they still do that. I'll have to ask.

Re: Flu shots

Dorothy on 2/12/04 at 10:19 (144170)

It sounds like you should have gotten a babysitters'/caretakers'/sister's medal of honor! What a great job you did, at just sixteen! It was in the early sixties that my youngest brother got scarlet fever, but no one else in the family did. In the early sixties, my friend's father and sister were placed in a TB sanitarium for a year, as this was how TB was still handled then. Just about twenty-some years later, when I was a social worker, I had a client who had TB and she was placed on isoniazide (sp?) and some other tx, was supposed to report to public health and if she failed to show for appts w/ ME, I was supposed to report her to p.h. - but it was all 'honor system' and voluntary. She was mentally ill, did not comply w/unpleasant meds, disappeared - and all with active TB.She was a frequent traveler and probably was spreading TB as she went. Whooping cough is making a comback - there have been regular outbreaks in Amish communities, for example, even with vaccinations. In cases of communicable disease, quarantine has historically been a highly effective method of control. It's when disease control moves from public health into politics, that things get out of hand, it seems to me. We have a very old poster - from 1900 - that is an original sign of the sort that used to be placed in people's windows: Diptheria! Keep Out! and other warning statements - including one saying Quarantine!....
TB is also making a strong comback, particularly in inner cities, but disease doesn't recognize geopolitical boundaries very well; humans have to force that to happen. We have a growing Chagas disease in the U.S. because of poor controls and it is increasingly a threat to the blood supply.....
And so on. As if there isn't enough to worry about. We're all lucky to make it out of here alive.... :-)

Re: Flu shots

Dorothy on 2/12/04 at 10:29 (144171)

There have been some puzzling 'twists' to information when you think about it...like the idea that the 'flu' is mild, innocuous, often confused with a cold, and so on - when, in fact, it is a debilitating illness. We know some people who have gotten the flu that has gone around this year and they have been VERY sick, several for almost a month and then a prolonged full recovery even after returning to work - extreme fatigue, body aches/pains, etc.
I also think the whole flu vaccine area is a puzzling one. Last year, for example, the country - in many/most parts - did not have enough. This year, there was a surplus but it was actually effective for LAST YEAR'S flu strain, not this year's. The fact that it was not really effective for THIS year's strain - and people who got the shot were still getting the flu! - was not disclosed until AFTER most had gotten the shot!
I have been reading about thimerosal added to vaccines and all flu vaccine has thimerosal added. Because thimerosal is so very controversial and is being phased out of vaccines, one can't help but wonder - if one has a conspiracy theory proclivity! - if old flu stock w/thimerosal was not simply being used up this year, with little effectiveness but also with no loss of profit! Hmmmmmmmm.....

Re: Flu shots

Dorothy on 2/12/04 at 10:34 (144172)

There was the great flood of 1927 that is often called America's worst natural disaster. There are several books about it, but that, again, is something that is not often taught/talked about but it was HUGE and affected a lot of the country.

Re: Flu shots

Julie on 2/12/04 at 10:39 (144173)

That sounds likely, Dorothy. One can't help wondering, indeed. I must look into it and see if I can find out if the same shenanigans are happening here.

And yes, there is confusion about flu. Of course it is as you say, a serious illness. But lots of people go about their business when they have a cold, saying 'I've got flu'.
.

Re: Flu shots

Carole C in NOLA on 2/12/04 at 10:46 (144175)

I got my flu shot this year, and I haven't had much of a cold since the week I got it! I think they raise my immunity to other bugs. Apparently it's only 80% effective against the flu this year, though, from what I've read.

Carole C

Re: Flu shots

Suzanne D. on 2/12/04 at 10:51 (144177)

Yes, and how about that phrase 'a touch of the flu'. I often hear people say, I think I have a 'touch of the flu' when they are out and about. I would think you either have the flu or you don't! And, like you said, Julie, it seems people say they have the flu when they have a cold because they get more sympathy! :)

Suzanne :)

Re: 1918 Flu Pandemic

Carole C in NOLA on 2/12/04 at 10:54 (144179)

My parents and grandparents talked about it a lot. But then my father was a medical doctor, so perhaps we had more discussion of such things in our family than others might in theirs.

Also, I remember that it was written about in several books that I read as a child. Wasn't it mentioned in 'All Quiet on the Western Front'? If it wasn't that one, it was another one about World War One.

Thanks for the information though, Kathy! It DOES seem like nobody talks about it any more, and those who forget history are condemned to repeat it, as they say.

Carole C

Re: Flu shots

Suzanne D. on 2/12/04 at 11:57 (144186)

Unfortunately, the 'almighty dollar' seems to govern more situations of communicable diseases than I'd like to think. The schools get government funding for every child in attendance each day, so I see lots of situations in which I think children should be kept home, but rules are bent and broken for that attendance. And that is to the detriment of the sick child and all others there who are exposed!

I had scarlet fever in 1963. Actually, the doctor called it scarletina and said it was a mild case of scarlet fever. I couldn't imagine how terrible one would feel with a worse case! That is the sickest I have ever been. I remember how I lay in bed and worried about going blind because I had read the Little House books, and I knew Mary got scarlet fever and went blind. I wouldn't mention it to anyone because I was afraid of the answer I might get. I just lay and worried. I had it the two weeks we were out for Christmas which helped with my school work, but I didn't see the benefit then.

Suzanne :)

Re: Flu shots

Carole C in NOLA on 2/12/04 at 12:48 (144192)

My father had a bad case of Scarlet Fever when he was four years old. Everyone thought he was going to die, and he did too. All his life he remembered the family doctor who came out to the farm to see him when he had Scarlet Fever.

That doctor's selfless courage in coming out there to see such a very sick child inspired my father to study and go to medical school when he grew up. He always saw medicine as a noble profession (when he was alive).

Carole C

Re: oh did THAT sound funny when I re-read it!

Carole C in NOLA on 2/12/04 at 17:01 (144206)

ROFL!!!!

When I said (concerning my dad when he was a little boy with Scarlet Fever), 'Everyone thought he was going to die, and he did too.', I meant that he thought he was going to die, too.

Not that he DID die! LOL That must have been confusing. I'll have to do a better job in proofreading my posts . :D

Carole C

Re: Flu shots

Carole C in NOLA on 2/12/04 at 17:16 (144207)

My father talked about some flood in the 1920's that was huge... it must have been the 1927 flood.

As you all have probably surmised by now, my father (who has been dead for 22 years) talked about a lot during my youth. Back in those days, children literally were to be seen but not heard. We were not allowed to speak at dinner, and my father and mother and any other adults present would talk. At dessert, or afterwards, my father would talk about history, or economics, or languages, or any of his myriad of interests. We were not permitted to leave until excused, which was when he was done talking. We learned a lot from his discourses, though we also got tired of hearing about how hard life was during the Depression.

Carole C

Re: oh did THAT sound funny when I re-read it!

Suzanne D. on 2/12/04 at 17:49 (144211)

I understood perfectly, Carole! And I think that is inspiring to know that his illness prompted him to be interested in becoming a doctor. It's one of those bad things that happens in life that triggers something good. I like hearing those stories!

Suzanne :)