Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918

Isn't this a stunning photo?
These two ladies are most likely sporting a "fashionable" form of the mask worn to protect people from the spread of the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic. I enlarged to photo to see the look of worry and concern in each of their eyes that is more striking than their lovely attire.

The worry in their eyes is there for good reason. 

The Spanish Flu pandemic is thought to have caused 50-100 million world wide deaths--3-5% of the world's population at the time. The first wave spread around the globe in 1918, while a deadlier mutated strain circled the globe again the following year. While flu virus most commonly increases mortality in the very young, the elderly, immune compromised, and in pregnant women, the Spanish Flu caused the highest death toll in the young and healthy ages twenty to forty. Strains from the deadly flu have been isolated and studied, revealing information that the reason the young and healthiest died was from an over active immune response that stormed out of control, reversing it's healthful affects, clogging the airways with swelling that became fatal.

The Spanish Flu pandemic is often called "the forgotten pandemic" because it was overshadowed by news of mortalities from WWI. It is hard to imagine how such a deadly epidemic could possibly be forgotten when it's estimated that it may have killed more than Black Death did in a century and more people in 24 weeks than AIDS has killed in 24 years. It gained its name because Spain was not in the war at the time of the outbreak and did not have news censorship due to the war. Thus, news of flu deaths hit the newspapers without regard for morale that censorship was meant to protect in other war torn countries in Europe.

My great grandfather died in the last stages of the flu epidemic after walking miles to town to purchase medicine for his ill family. He was 39 years old and left behind six children, the youngest was one year old. My grandfather was the oldest of the children and was left to run the farm at the age of thirteen. My great aunt retells that the rest of the family was so ill, that they brought his body to each of their bedsides to bid him farewell, because no one could get out of bed to attend the burial. 

How did the Spanish Flu affect your ancestors?
What strikes you most about this time in history?
Blog post by Anne Love-
Writer of Historical Romance inspired by her family roots. 
Nurse Practitioner by day. 
Wife, mother, writer by night. 
Coffee drinker--any time.
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  1. This makes me think of Anne Mateer's wonderful book Wings of a Dream. They have to deal with the Spanish flu in that novel.

    1. I haven't read that one yet Sylvia, will have to check it out.

    2. I have that book. It is a definite keeper.

  2. Oh wow...your poor family!

    And how odd that the healthy died in such critical numbers? A whole generation, wiped out. So sad.

  3. Had NO idea of this family history, Anne! WOW!!! Heartbeaking

    1. It must have been terrifying for people living during those times.

  4. My maternal grandfather lost his first wife in 1918 from the flu and left him with four young children. My paternal grandfather lost a brother also. He was only 18. After reading your article, I can see why, even though he wasn't in the very young or very old category.

    1. It's hard to imaging that there really are few that weren't touched by it isn't it Martha?

  5. I don't remember hearing anything about this flu, Anne! Hard to believe I haven't, yet also hard to believe I could have forgotten about it - if I HAD heard about it (although my memory is getting pretty bad)!! I'm wondering if it was overshadowed by the war, as you said. My grandfather, and uncle's brother served in WWI, as did my grandmother's young brother who was killed in a train wreck (that is known as probably the worst train wreck in the history of Ky.) 10 miles from my house, while home on leave during the Christmas holidays. He had taken the train into the "big" city of Louisville, to go Christmas shopping - there were many fatalities. Perhaps another good storyline - detailing the lives of each of the train passengers??


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