October 16, 2008

The Friday Record - Influenza Pandemic 1917-1919

Well, since flu season is about to swoop down on us, I thought I'd write about the influenza Pandemic of the 1900's. In the book "It's About Time: How Long History Took" Mike Flanagan writes on page 106 that the pandemic took 3 years and that:

"Chicago's crime rate dropped 43 percent. In one day 851 New Yorkers died. More American soldiers died of the "Spanish Flu" in 1918 than were killed on battlefields of World War I. Since epidemic bronchitis preceded the flu from 1915-1917 in France and England, few individuals had a prior immunity to this new lethal strain and often died within a week of exposure. In the United States, 500,000 deaths were recorded between March and November of 1918. Globally, about 40 million people died. Recent studies say the virus may have percolated within humans and pigs for several years until it grew lethal enough to emerge as history's worst influenza pandemic."

You may recall that this pandemic was mentioned in the holiday classic "It's A Wonderful Life." As an employee at the pharmacy, George Baily reads a telegram from the war department to Mr. Gower telling him his son died of the influenza. That causes Mr. Gower to poison some medicine by accident and George saves the day by noticing what had happened. When George is 'never born,' Mr. Gower was sentenced to years in prison for killing people that day.

Additional information can be found out:

for a time line:


The CDC's website says:

Influenza (the flu) is serious.
Each year in the United States, on average:

More than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications;
36,000 people die from flu.

For more information from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) check out their website:


And more information on flu shots and statistics can be found at WebMD


If you're at high risk for the flu, young, old, or chronically sick, you should get your flu shot, before the flu gets you.

**Thus ends my public service announcement.

~Anna Kathryn


Gwynlyn MacKenzie said...

I was asked to review a story once that included a passage where a young man walked into town and when asked about the condition of his grandparent replied, "Just a bit under the weather with a touch of la grippe." I couldn't review it. A "touch of la grippe", especially in the time frame of said book as you point out, was often a death sentence even in the young and healthy. In the old? No loving grandchild would be so cavalier.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Gwynlyn, it goes to show you how the author didn't have an understanding of the times or the phrase.

Anna Kathryn

Skhye said...

Lord, Gwynlyn. I critiqued a piece once set in the 1700s where a sibling of the heroine was stabbed or shot (can't remember) and NOBODY was concerned that this character was bleeding and possibly dying. I was told it wasn't important by three writers when I insisted the characters would be terrified of the wound. Not to mention, people didn't even want to catch the sniffles back then. I guess it's really difficult for the average person to think beyond the time in which they live.

I had the flu in the spring. I laid in bed 4 days thinking I would die. Get your flu shot! I am Tuesday.

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