Winter is approaching and the flu season is underway earlier with New Jersey only having sporadic cases reported thus far. That will change within the next few weeks to a month when the cold weather coincides with the virus. Now is the time to get vaccinated if you have not yet done so. The Center for Disease
Control (CDC) is recommending that everyone six months and older should get the vaccine, especially the very young (<2 years), the elderly (>65), those
with underlying diseases, and pregnant women.
The most famous and well known pandemic of influenza was the Spanish Flu of 1918. Dubbed the “greatest medical holocaust in history,” it took more than 50 million lives. It was early spring in Fort Riley, Kansas, and a company cook reported to work sick. Four days later, the illness had spread to Queens, New York and hospitals were full to capacity. The morgues were filled and they were lining up bodies in the hallways with no place to put them. The funeral homes could not keep up with the volume of deaths and were calling on soldiers to help with the embalming and the burial preparations as well as the grave digging. There was a slogan created at the time, “Cover up each cough and sneeze. If you don’t, you’ll spread the disease.”
When the officials learned that a pandemic was in full swing, they cancelled and closed any business or gathering that involved groups of people, including schools, churches and grocery stores. If you were sick with the flu and went out in public, you could be fined a hefty $50. People wore face masks when in public and also if a family member was ill. There was a general, mass hysteria
concerning the disease and people were turning to homemade remedies such as
wearing strings of garlic around their necks or putting a potato in their pocket. None of these helped. The children had a rhyme which they jumped rope to while they sang:
I had a little bird.
Its name was Enza.
I opened a window.
This flu outbreak was different than most in that it sickened and killed those who were healthy and young and killed within hours of the development of the first symptoms. The symptoms were what we typically see today with the flu: high fever, body aches and fatigue. However, there were also symptoms that had
not been seen with the flu before including hemorrhaging from the nose, ears, mucous membranes and a frothy, bloody fluid coming out of the mouth. Most people who died suffocated from the amount of fluid in their lungs.
There were three waves of the disease that occurred with the first wave being the most traumatic. As each new wave began, the symptoms were less severe and the death rate was lessened. No one knows how the first case of the Spanish flu began just as no one knows why the virus ‘died out’. It is believed that the virus mutated from an avian source since birds are known to be the main animal reservoirs of flu viruses. The Spanish flu is the same stereotype as the swine flu pandemic that occurred in 2009, H1N1.
The question now is this. Are we prepared for another pandemic flu outbreak like the Spanish flu? How would we handle an illness that infects and kills the healthy part of the populations? Will our vaccines be enough to control the
worst of it?