The 1918 Influenza Pandemic Essay, Research Paper
The 1918 Influenza Pandemic:
The Hidden Secrets of a Mass Murderer
Once again the forgotten truth of the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 is revealed. Lost in the woodwork are many events, although in this case, it was just too devastating for people to not be aware of its existence. Around this very world people died by the townful, not by the hands of a person but by the hands of a deadly flu. This is a detective story. Here was a mass murderer that was around 80 years ago and who s never been brought to justice. And what we re trying to do is find the murderer. [Taubenberger pg. 289]
1918 was a very difficult time for our nations. Many countries were strongly involved in the Great WWI, almost to the point where all countries time and thought was driven away from the mass deaths due to the influenza. More people died from this than the war so, that it was practically swept under the table. The influenza actually tended to originate and sweep through the camps of many soldiers, killing them mysteriously one by one. Even more closely related to the flu as reported in The New York Times, was the fact that many areas were short on nurses, and even shorter on money to hire more medical staff [New York Times, Sat 28, 1918]. And day by day more and more people began to become ill. Learning more about The Pandemic of 1918 may help control or even prevent an identical flu strain that can killed so many.
More important to the restraint of this flu is the medical research done to prevent it from reappearing with as much magnitude as before. Until 1918, scientists believed these deadly flu s to be a bacteria, but later proved inaccurate by autopsies. From much research and development they have come to the conclusion that Influenza has three types, or strains, easily labeled as A, B, and C. The most severe form, A type, is the form which causes Pandemics. The flu is dangerous to a human due to the fact that the Hemagglutinin (H-spike), combines with the red blood cells, to make them clump together. After this occurs they match up with a protein on the respiratory cell, and this allows the virus to pick a good host cell. The only thing that can divert the H-spike from working correctly is the Neuraminidase (N-spike), the job of this spike is an enzyme or chemical activator. It separates the red blood cells from the H-spike; in other words, makes the virus to large too fit in the cell. The only thing from preventing the N-spike from working all the time, and every time is that once a person contracts the virus they do not have enough N-spikes to fight off the H-spikes from doing their jobs. Due to this sequence, the A-type virus is a common cause of Pandemics and Epidemics.
A common misconception is the origination of the Flu epidemic. Much to Spain s dismay, many people believe the virus began there, calling it the Spanish Flu. Although proven by many scientists untrue, the label on Spain still remains. The most believable explanation for this is that due to the fact Spain did not censor their news reports. It seemed to be that many cases were popping up in Spain before anywhere else. The Spanish military leaders believe that the Flu actually began in Europe, or more precisely German military camps, due to the uncleanness in the camps. Their theories are that the virus was brought to battle on Flanders, blown across the Spanish coast and into Spain where the Flu was then contracted by many helpless citizens. Although their theories can easily be proved wrong because Madrid (mid-Spain) had many cases of the virus before any were identified on or near the coasts.
More accurately reviewed by scientist, John Oxford, that the influenza of 1918 may as well have been called the flu of 1917 or even 1916. I am not even talking about the Spanish Lady of 1918, Oxford said. I am talking about a Spanish Lady from 1916 or 1917. From digging up old postmortem reports in a library with summer med-students he found that many deaths occurred earlier than 1918, and of other diseases that had the same symptoms as the influenza of 1918. As early as 1916 their were reports of deaths in Camp Aldershot, British Barracks in London, and a few cases in France.
Many doctors reported in their postmortem statements that the patient would arrive with lack of oxygen to the lips and ears and would die soon thereafter. The patients loss of color to those areas is a result of a disease called cattarah, resulting in cyanosis. Often cattarah patients were confused with flu patients due to the similarities between the two.
Another speculation Oxford came to was the swine-flu. By researching post-mortem statements, of Guangdong, Hong Kong, he noticed cases tracing back all the way to September, October 1888. He was able to do this research based on the efforts of the H-spike and the immune system. He compared the mutations or sequences of the spikes of the human to that of a bird and a swine. Through a computer program he realized that there is no way possible it could have come directly from birds to humans; it would have had to have a middleman. This middleman became known as the swine. In conclusion he noted that the virus could have been floating around for a mere 50 years without great acknowledgement. This is the exact reason why China s death rate was much lower than that of any other country in 1918, the Chinese had actually developed an immunity against this particular flu. This also explains the reason that when the Chinese went into France, where the virus had been strongly lingering, they did not contract it. [Kolata pgs. 296-297]
Although the origination of the 1918 virus is still questionable, the symptoms and diagnosis were not. Thanks to the accurate hospital and military records all or most cases were reported and noted. The reason for such concise data is that during this time WWI was being fought and all military doings were recorded, including medical data. It mostly attacked the very young, or people in the peak stages of their lives, as well as the elder generations. The exact curve was the ages of newborn to 5, 20-24, as well as 70-74. Having the youngest generation die in such heaps almost wiped out our youngest and most pure generation. The other downside was the people in their 20 s. These were the people who were most capable of having viable offspring, therefore killing the unborn population as well. Another downfall is that being that it was WWI the strongest, most reliable men were dying not only in their homes but in camps across the world, leaving many armies short of men. This is the reason why just causes don t matter, it s everything that it effects as a result, that does.
I know how not to get AIDS, says Alfred W. Crosby, a historian of the 1918 flu. I don t know how not to get the flu. This was the exact feeling of the many people living during this time period. It was so deadly, yet so easy not to get. Many senseless precautions were made, and followed, but in many cases not helpful. Across the world foolish laws were being posted, the New York Commissioner of Health states, any fellow kissing a girl would be wise to do it through a handkerchief. [Stedman, pg.38] In other countries from Europe to Asia and down to Australia, children wore gauze face masks to prevent them from catching the flu, unfortunately it was no help [Stedman, 38-39]. Schools around the world, to keep kids off the streets would allow the kids to stay in school. People tried to follow the unwritten law of the 3 C s Clean mouth, Clean skin, and Clean clothes. Just to take precautions, they also shut down many forms of transportation, as well as large buildings and places where large gatherings of people were held. People were asked to remain at home or where contact with others was limited. These were some of the senseless bounds taken by the leaders of many countries to try and prevent any more deaths due to this flu.
Symptoms of the flu did not have much variation. Most carriers tended to have a lot of the same problems. By definition influenza is an acute, infectious, contagious disease of the respiratory tract, especially the trachea, colloquially called flu or, less often grippe. Medical Studies report that symptoms a person could have are a dry cough due to a sore throat, nasal congestion and/or discharge, odd burning to the eyes. When a more developed case comes along symptoms would tend to also be chill followed by a high fever, muscle pains, and even gastrointestinal symptoms [Microsoft Encarta. Influenza ]. The symptoms of the people from 1918 were very similar. Examples are: sneezing, runny nose and eyes, bad chills accompanied later by a fever of at least 101 to 103 degrees, aching joints and back pains, sudden loss of hunger and a debilitating feeling. These symptoms were the full and complete basis for diagnosis. The only glitch is that the killer in actuality is not the flu, it is the viral pneumonia or bacteria pneumonia that follows. In many of the cases resulting in death, large amounts of fluid were found lodged in the carriers throat. An example was private Roscoe Vaughn, a private, stationed in camp Jackson located in North Carolina. He was found dead containing 1 + cups of this same clear fluid[Kolata pgs.28-30]. The only problem is that today the many dead, preserved lungs kept from 1918 have disintegrated, due to the fact they are a tissue and do not hold form.
A fifth of the world got the flu in 1918. It Spread from place to place in days, airborne and infecting many as it went. From its origination it soared in record time to France and Spain around the month of April, in Spain, King Alfonso XIII contracted the flu virus. From there it spread to England in May, only to have King George fall victim to its mad hands. Along with England, South America, Africa and the Scandinavian countries as well, fell victim in May. Soon after in June it was slowly disappearing in England and arising quite rapidly in China and Japan. The USA first saw signs of the flu when a Norwegian steam liner, The Bergensfjord, arrived to an Atlantic port on August the 12th, aboard were 200 cases [New York Times, Sat. 28, 1918]. Soon after more than 25% of the USA fell ill. Huge outbreaks of the flu were immediately being reported. Particularly three camps, Fort Devons, Fort Lee, and Fort Upton. Devans reporting some 6, 583 recipients, Lee having a total of 1,121, as well as Upton ranking in third with 602, and many other camps right on their tail with incredibly high numbers as well [New York Times, Sat. 28, 1918]. This was only the beginning, the death totals began to grow in number soon after.
Unfortunately due to WWI the number of medical staff available was definitely a lot smaller than needed to help control the flu. According to THE NEW YORK TIMES, Massachusetts put a request in for 1,000,000 people to help aid in the great influenza fight [New York Times, Sat 28, 1918]. There was an incredible shortage of doctors and nurses, many were tending to our injured or sick, uniformed men, at the various camps. By them being away left a huge amount of citizens without appropriate care. Another bid to the government was for $25,000 to pay for the repair of old buildings to hold the ill patients, also to pay the salaries of the people they planned to hire. In New England tens of thousands were affected and hospitals were full to their brink. On the other hand a mere 40% of our navy got sick, along with 36% of our Army[Kolata pg.6-7]. Both, being such crucial pieces in our nations defense, left us almost short handed of men due to the fact many were either sick in bed or on their death beds. Many military operations were being delayed and even in some cases put off. German General Erich von Ludendorff added, It was a grievous business having to listen every morning to the Chief of Staff s recital of the number of influenza cases, and their complaints about the weakness of their troops . [Kolata, pg.11] A letter written to a friend from a doctor, was found 60 years later, it states, Camp Devons is near Boston, and has about 50,000 men, or did before this epidemic broke loose, The flu Epidemic hit the camp four weeks earlier, he added, and has developed so rapidly that the camp is demoralized and all ordinary work is held up till it has passed. All assemblages of soldiers are taboo. [Kolata, 13]. Quite alarming were all the cases popping up around the globe, so many that it was almost more concievable to try and control its cases rather than eliminate the flu as a whole.
Historian Crosby, knowing some what of all the deaths as a result of the 1918 flu, decided to rummage through some old almanacs. In his findings he had concluded that the life expectancy in one year had dropped a total of 12 years. Crosby stated, What the hell happened? The life expectancy had dropped to what it had been fifty years before. In 1918 alone the flu had taken the lives of 2.5% of its victims. Although accurate number will never really be seen, due to the fact some countries too overwhelmed with the number of deaths they just did not keep accurate records. But an estimated 20 to 100 million people died. This number is so great, that it alone in the USA, is more deaths total in one year than that of AIDS, heart disease, cancer, strokes, chronic pulmonary disease, and Alzheimer s disease combined. Normally 1/10 of a percent of people will die from the flu, whereas in 1918 an astronomical 2.5% of it s victims had died. At the time the total deaths, of the men fighting as of July 1, were 42, 867. Another problem was all the people coming to America from European countries that were carriers of the flu. It not only brought in more of a chance for Americans to contract the flu but around 7% of the boats population came into harbor dead. Leaving but more bodies they had to tend to. Around the month of April a second wave of the Pandemic began to linger. The people knew what was going to happen, considering they had only been through it a few months prior. In South Africa so many bodies and no coffins remained to put them in. Unfortunately mass graves became the burial ground to many bodies wrapped shamelessly in dirtied white cloth. In England stretchers with bodies were placed in the classrooms where desks had once stood. It was such a tragedy for mankind to have experienced in such a short amount of time, with no time to prepare.
Due to the fact that when bodies were buried, they were buried without any preserves, that the autopsies given resulted only in hopelessness of finding the roots of this deadly virus. The reason for this is when a body disintegrates, the lungs are one of the first body parts to go. Therefore scientists looking to study the past have such trouble finding any more conclusive information on The Influenza Pandemic of 1918. Although luckily 3 bodies, of three individuals from different walks of life, from different areas, in one way or another, were preserved. The first of the three to be found was Private Roscoe Vaughn, a 21 year old male, Caucasian. Vaughn arrived to Camp Jackson September 1918, training in artillery. On the 19th he called in sick, on Sept. 26th at 6:30 a.m., he died gasping for air. An autopsy was immediately performed, a chunk of the lung removed and preserved with formaldehyde, and placed in-between a slices of wax. From the autopsy room it was sent to Washington where it remained for many years. The wax is what has preserved the sample for so long. The second victim to be recovered was Private James Downs. He was based in Camp Upton, New York. Records show Downs entering the hospital on the 23 of September and dying soon thereafter on the 26th just 2 hours before Private Vaughan. Fortunately his specimen was preserved and sent out the same as the other Private. Other than the fact they both had influenza autopsies showed they both were healthy, and incredibly fit men. The third and final was an Alaskan Woman whom had fallen ill and buried among many of her townsman. When they were buried, the people had to dig trenches through the ice in order to have somewhere to place the bodies. There, frozen in her grave, remained a single woman for seventy years. These three very small samples of lung tissue led the way to experimentation and developmental research of the 1918 flu.
Sadly enough so many people had to die in such large numbers. Families were broken, friends were split, and towns were left abandoned. Only because a flu was not able to be contained. Scientists ponder whether or not it shall return. Some say that there is a wave every 20 years, and it has just been fortunate that it has not been bad the past few times. As the Historian Crosby once said, The virus, killed more humans than any other disease in a period of similar duration in the history of the world. It would be unjust to say it had such a large impact on the future, fore it did not. The past was practically forgotten. Schools seldom teach about it, because it was WWI that was in the limelight in 1918. Ashame that such a huge amount of peoples lives were taken, and any recognition of such a large event is not in the least present.