How the U.S. Dealt with the Spanish Flu of 1918
How the U.S. Dealt with the Spanish Flu of 1918

How the U.S. Dealt with the Spanish Flu of 1918

Larry Holzwarth - April 2, 2020

How the U.S. Dealt with the Spanish Flu of 1918
Red Cross litter bearers in Washington, DC, in 1918. National Archives

24. The lesson of the Spanish flu

The Spanish flu struck the United States as the nation was reaching its peak of mobilization during the First World War. Railroads teemed with relocating troops, harbors and ports were crowded with ships and sailors. Factories operated at full capacity. At the time flu was not known to be a virus, transmission by contact with contaminated surfaces had not been identified. In other words, it was a mysterious and previously unknown illness, which struck far more viciously than previously seen strands of seasonal flu. Americans at all levels were completely unprepared for its virulence, and watched with stunned helplessness as it killed seemingly at random.

Since these events, vaccines for flu and medicines to mitigate its symptoms appeared, both through prescriptions and over the counter compounds. Meanwhile, new strands of the flu continue to appear, as well as other viruses and illnesses which could easily reach these out of control proportions if the public is not informed of their existence and their propensity to spread. Medical knowledge advanced immensely in the century since the flu of 1918. That year and around the world into 1920, a respiratory illness caused by a novel virus claimed millions worldwide, while leaders suppressed knowledge of its existence. Some even opposed efforts to contain it out of financial and political concerns. Nothing more dramatically demonstrates the need to learn from history.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

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“How U. S. Cities Tried to Halt the Spread of the 1918 Spanish Flu”. Dave Roos, March 11, 2020

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