When you think of a horrible sickness with the highest death toll, what do you imagine? My mind automatically envisions the black plague, but who would’ve thought that the worst illness of all could’ve been influenza? It was The Spanish Flu, and Plague was nothing in comparison.
The Spanish Flu affected 500 Million people throughout the globe, and killed 40-50 Million; in some areas up to 80% of the population lost their lives.
A big part of the reason The Spanish Flu spread so quickly was because it occurred during WW1. Though there’s no way to be positive, today’s researchers believe the outbreak likely originated from a United States army camp. In 1918 one and one half million American soldiers traveled to Europe, and they brought this sickness with them.
It was dubbed the Spanish Flu because in May of 1918 alone eight million people in Madrid and Seville were infected, even the Spanish king nearly succumbed to this illness.
This flu was unlike anything ever seen before. Usually when a person comes down with influenza, they are in bed sick for a few days and then they’re slowly on the mend. With the Spanish Flu, doctors often didn’t have a chance to help save these people, within 12 hours of first showing symptoms many just dropped dead! Those who lived longer physically turned black and blue, their lungs filled up, and they essentially drowned in their own fluids.
We all know that influenza is most deadly to the very old and the very young, but that was not the case with the Spanish Flu. Most likely to die from this were those in the prime of their lives; otherwise healthy people aged 20-40 were dropping dead like flies.
People everywhere donned masks in an attempt to keep from breathing in germs, but the masks were often too porous; it was like trying to catch a butterfly with a chain link fence. Entire towns quarantined themselves to keep the sickness from coming in, but nothing could stop it.
Hospitals ran out of supplies, they had no real medicines to help patients, and it’s said that nurses began to place the toe tags on their patients long before they were ever dead. Funeral homes could not keep enough coffins to bury people in.
A truck would come around at night to collect the corpses of those who had died. When a young person passed away, a white crepe would be placed at the door. Black crepes were used for the middle aged, and grey for the elderly.
Scientists raced to find a cure, but they were ill equipped. Their microscopes weren’t capable of seeing a virus back then, it was just too small to be detected. They finally created a vaccine for this flu, but it didn’t work. After realizing that there would be no cure, people really began to panic.
People thought that Armageddon was upon them, and terrified people do crazy things. In San Francisco a health department inspector shot a man who had refused to wear a mask. In Chicago a laborer named Peter Marrazzo barricaded his family in their apartment. He told police “I’ll cure them my own way” just before slashing the throats of his wife and 4 children. There are several of these types of instances.
Usually the flu has a very short shelf life, it commonly shows up from October to March, then it’s thankfully gone. This was not the case with the Spanish Flu; it began in January of 1918 and lasted until December of 1920.
Every year we battle influenza; it’s always deadly, but some years are worse than others. If this type of influenza were to happen today, plenty of people would perish but it’s safe to say that we wouldn’t see the unbelievable death rates like 1918.
Today there are microscopes capable of seeing viruses, we have the knowledge to create masks which actually work, there are many medications to help battle fever and pneumonia, and we have access to vaccines. Modern medicine truly is amazing, we are fortunate.
Still you gotta wonder, why have we practically forgotten about the Spanish Flu? It’s part of our history; our great grandparents would’ve been affected, they either battled this illness themselves or knew people who passed from it. Why has The Spanish Flu been practically forgotten?