Spanish influenza of 1918

Editor’s note: To give insight into today’s pandemic, The Leader-Herald is dipping into its archives to report on the 1918 pandemic and how it affected the Tri-county area. This is the first of several accounts that will be published.

One hundred and two years ago the pandemic Spanish Influenza hit the United States, killing an estimated 50 million people worldwide and 675,000 in the U.S.

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the 1918 influenza pandemic was the most severe pandemic in recent history. Like COVID-19, it is believed to have started when the virus mutated and was passed from an animal to a person. The 1918 pandemic was caused by an H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin.

Although there is no universal consensus regarding where the virus originated, it spread worldwide during 1918 and 1919.

In the United States, it was first identified in military personnel in spring of 1918.

According to the CDC, it is estimated that about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with the virus.

In the Oct. 18, 1918 Morning Herald, under the headline “GERMAN DEFENSE CRUMBLES” and sitting next to the story about World War I, are two stories on the pandemic — “Situation is Unprecedented” and “Spanish Influenza Has Spread to Practically Every Part of Country.” The following are stories from that edition:

Situation is unprecedented

Health Officer A.L. Johnson states there is no let up locally in the Spanish influenza epidemic. In order to aid him in getting a better knowledge of the state of affairs, Dr. Johnson reiterated his request that all physicians to be more prompt in reporting cases. As yet, he has no accurate data concerning the extent of the spread of the epidemic.

Health Officer Johnson made the request yesterday that where a worker in any shop or mill shows symptoms of influenza, such as coughing or sneezing, the employee should be dismissed at once and sent home. Dr. Johnson is asking all manufacturers to cooperate with him in this respect and has had already the promise that his wish would be strictly complied with. There is no doubt but that many persons with colds have remained at work and have exposed many others to possible contagion. The elimination of those showing first symptoms will undoubtably be a strong factor in checking the epidemic. It is pointed out compliance with this request will tend to prevent the infection of other persons.

Another Chief of Police George R. Smith’s men, Bert Aldrich, has been obliged to take to his bed. Patrolman Adam Engell has recovered to a great extent and it is expected he will in a few days be able to attend his duties again.

Conditions greatly throughout the city are unchanged. Some persons who gave up promptly and took to their beds have gotten around again, while some others who were congratulating themselves that they were immune are laid up for repairs. There has never been a time in the history of the city when physicians and nurses have been so hard hit. Both have not only been worked to the limit, but both have contracted the prevailing disease, several even contracting pneumonia.

There has been an unprecedented call for nurses and yesterday the local Red Cross, which has received orders from headquarters of the Atlantic division to give all possible aid, was enabled to get hold of a few nurses and dispatch them to places where their services were sorely needed. It is probable the present conditions will continue for several days at least.

Proprietor Pryce W. Jones was back at the Windsor hotel yesterday after being laid up for several days. He found manager Coffey laid up, together with nearly a dozen other employees or attaches of the hotel, rendering next to impossible the usual service of the hotel.

The Glen Telephone company was still struggling under an almost impossible task yesterday. The prevailing epidemic and conditions generally have had the tendency naturally to increase demands made upon the telephone company. It is just the natural result and should have been expected. The management of the company has worked heroically to take care of the business, while too much credit can not be given former employees and operatives who have volunteered to take the place of the sick operatives. The company’s troubles will not materially decrease until everybody else’s troubles have become less in number.

The Nathan Littauer hospital has been put to a hard test during the epidemic. There has been a “capacity house” there for days — even weeks — and the nurses have labored valiantly to take care of a situation that has been unprecedented. Many of the nurses have succumbed to illness and had to take to their beds, while others have struggled along more than half sick, caring for others. Along with the physicians, the nurses are entitled to commendation and praise for their unself and untiring efforts to effectually and adequately meet the situation.

Public schools to remain closed

Johnstown’s epidemic of Spanish influenza is still very much in evidence as evidenced by several deaths yesterday. Donald Fraser, president of the board of education, stated last evening that the public schools would not reopen as planned for this morning, but would remain closed until health conditions improve to such an extent that it is considered safe to resume the sessions of the schools.

In addition to the three members of the fire department mentioned last evening, the “casuality” list of city employees has been increased by the names of City Clerk Grover E. Yerdon and Street Superintendent Giles Fonda, who are confined to their homes.

Spread to practically every part of the country

Spanish influenza now has spread to practically every part of the country, reports today to the public health service showed the disease is epidemic in many western and Pacific coast states as well as in almost all regions east of the Mississippi River. Its spread also continued in army camps, the number of new cases reported being greater than on the day before.

Influenza now is epidemic at three places in Arizona, in Maryland, in many parts of Arkansas, in Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Kansas, North Dakota, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and many other states. In Mississippi amusement places over the state have been ordered closed and all public gatherings prohibited at Seattle, Bremerton, Pasco, Prosser, Sulton, and Port Angeles, Washington.

The disease is reported from many parts of California, while in Texas the malady has been reported from 77 counties with the number of cases varying from 1 to 4,000 in each county. A slight decrease is noted in the number of cases reported in Massachusetts, but in the District of Columbia, the malady is spreading rapidly, more than 2,000 new cases being reported.

The epidemic continues in New Jersey and the public health service announced that a physician has been placed in charge at Perth Amboy in cooperation with the state and local health authorities. He has been directed to make necessary arrangement for giving medical and nursing assistance. Aid was especially needed at this point, it was said because of the recent explosion, which has increased the danger of the spread of influenza, pneumonia and other communicable diseases.

New cases of influenza reported today at army camps totalled 13,605, a slight increase over the number yesterday. There also was an increase in pneumonia cases, with 2,842 reported. The 820 deaths made a total of 6,543 in the camps since the epidemic started last month.

Camp Funston, Kansas reported 1,430 new influenza cases today, while Camp Custer Michigan reported 1,000 and Camp Taylor Kentucky, 607. The highest number of pneumonia cases, 370, was reported at Camp Mead, Md., while Camp Custer had 275 cases and Camp Grant, Ill., 201.

By Kerry Minor

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