20. Pandemic Influenza
Prof: Our topic this
morning is influenza, which is timely for today.
And I’d like to begin by
talking about influenza virus more in general,
and we’ll concentrate our attention,
for obvious reasons, on the Spanish Lady,
the great influenza of 1918,1919.
Now, influenza virus was
isolated in the 1930s by Andrews, Wilson and Laidlaw,
and the mechanisms of the disease were then unraveled
subsequently. As you know,
there are three types, A, B and C, and it’s A virus
that’s the cause of pandemics among human beings.
In terms of the structure of
the virus, as you know,
it’s RNA, wrapped in a protein envelope,
with protein spikes on the surface–
you can see them–and the spikes are of two major types:
hemagglutinin and neuraminidase.
The hemagglutinin enables the
virus to attach itself to a host cell,
in this case in the respiratory tract,
and it’s neuraminidase that enables the fusion of the virus
with cells, so that the viral RNA can be
released into the cell’s cytoplasm and then migrate to
the cell nucleus. The hemagglutinin and
neuraminidase have various strains that have been numbered,
and you have on your handout those that have been identified
for the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first
century. And everyone knows now H1N1,
the swine virus that’s currently with us.
And I’m sorry on the handout
that I’ve got 2010; I meant to have 2009 to 2011.
So, if you could make that
correction, that would make me feel happy.
The viral RNA then hijacks the
cell and transforms it into a viral factory for the
reproduction of virus, and it eventually destroys the
cell itself. This process of reproduction is
extraordinarily efficient, and nearly instantaneous,
so that the idea of measuring generations of viruses begins to
lose all meaning. We also need to point out,
about influenza virus, that the RNA combines in all
sorts of ways, making a genetic characteristic
of extreme instability, or should we say mutability.
The processes involved,
that you can study up on Science Hill in more detail,
involve things called antigen drift,
antigen shift, mutation, hybridization,
giving rise to subtypes, strains and variants.
All of these changes are part
of the success story of influenza as a disease,
and there is no crossover immunity from one strain to
another; acquired immunity,
that is, is strain specific. Well, mutability also explains
an epidemiological feature of influenza,
and that is that pandemics tend to arrive in waves,
each being biologically different, with different
symptoms and different virulence.
And we’ll see that the great
pandemic, after World War I, had four major waves.
Well, influenza tends to be
reflective of the relationships also of human beings and
animals– birds, horses and pigs–in that
there’s interspecies transfer from animals to humans,
and from humans in the reverse direction.
And this may be the route by
which human beings first contracted the disease,
and it’s known that this, the animal reservoir,
is a source of new strains. The hypothesis recently has
been that there’s a reservoir in Asia, perhaps in China or
Asiatic Russia. But interestingly,
it’s that very hypothesis that misled public health responses
when the swine flu pandemic first got underway,
in that surveillance was active in the Far East but the disease
arrived instead in Mexico. What’s the history of human
beings and influenza? The origins simply aren’t known.
The earliest clear evidence,
of a literary kind, is in the fifteenth and
sixteenth centuries. But records are fragmentary and
unreliable. So, the best we can do is to
look at the last few centuries; the eighteenth,
nineteenth, twentieth, and the first years of our own
century. In the eighteenth century,
there were major pandemics: 1729 to ’30,
’32 to ’33, ’61 to ’62, and then especially 1781 to
1782, and then 1788 to 1789. In the nineteenth century there
were pandemics 1830 to ’31, ’33, ’50 to ’51,
and then the great pandemic of 1889 to 1890.
And in the twentieth century
we’ve had a number of pandemics, the greatest being 1918 to ’20;
the Spanish Flu, as it was called.
Now, the reason I was reading
out the rather grim years of influenza pandemics was to point
out first, of course, that they’re
recurrent and are still with us, as you know,
but also to note that there seemed to be something of a
pattern of more or less one major pandemic in every century.
Well, influenza is a viral
infection transmitted person to person;
an airborne disease, much more contagious than say
SARS, that we remember from just a few years ago.
SARS requires prolonged
face-to-face contact, but not influenza.
So, a notable feature then of
the flu is its rapid communicability.
It also has a short incubation
period, just twenty-four to seventy-two hours.
All of that implies also that
epidemiologically it’s different from a number of the infectious
diseases we’ve studied. As I said in the email that I
sent to you about social diseases,
it’s really a spectrum, not an absolute,
when we talk about being a social disease or not.
And I would submit to you that
influenza is at the far end of that spectrum,
in not really being a classic social disease.
It’s not very sensitive to
economic conditions, sanitation and diet;
those features that were hallmarks of malaria,
say, or tuberculosis. Its diffusion occurs wherever
human beings move in numbers and breathe.
It follows networks of
communication: railroads, steamships,
airplanes in our time; and ports and railroad hub
cities, or now we would say airport centers,
tend to be foci of infection, and were first attacked with
lightening speed. So, flu was favored by the
transportation technology of the industrial revolution and since,
and once again by urbanization, and of course population growth
and overcrowding. Let’s look at a precursor to
the great pandemic of the First World War, and this is the
horrible pandemic of the nineteenth century,
of 1889 to 1890. This was the first truly global
pandemic of influenza, and the most devastating one in
history, until that time. It affected every continent.
The reasons were that the world
was prepared now for pandemic influenza,
as a result of the transportation revolution–
the railroad and the steamship–urbanization and
trade, demographic growth and
colonialism. Vulnerability to influenza then
seems to be, in part, a byproduct of modernization,
as we’ve been reminded by recent events.
Studies of 1889 to 1890
demonstrate this in more detail. In cities like Moscow,
Paris or London, the first cases occurred in
October to November of 1889. And these tended not to be
noticed; there was nothing particular
about them that people noted at the time.
But they occurred among very
particular sectors of the population that were most
involved in trade, commerce and the nodes of
communication; that is, the first people to
fall ill tended to be dockers or post-office workers,
railway men, policemen.
the less industrialized the locality, the more remote and
agricultural it was, the later and less severely the
locality suffered. In 1889 to 1890,
the Alps in Europe, Italy, Spain and Portugal,
all lagged behind Northern Europe and the United States,
and even in the great urban centers there were isolated,
small communities that sometimes survived entirely
unscathed; monasteries and convents,
for example, in both Moscow and Paris
experienced the pandemic without victims, in some cases.
And this was sometimes true
also of closed institutions like prisons.
after following the transportation network–and this
was true of 1889 to ’90–the flu spread along what’s called the
urban hierarchy; that is, it went first to major
cities, and from there into the hinterland of those cities,
and only later to smaller towns, villages and rural areas.
And 1918 to ’19,
in the United States, shows this same pattern;
that is, the flu went almost instantaneously from Boston and
New York to Cincinnati, Chicago, New Orleans,
Detroit, San Francisco, Seattle, and then at greater
leisure it moved into almost every place in between,
until there was hardly a settlement of any size that had
been entirely spared. Wherever it went,
rich and poor, educated and illiterate,
men and women, the physically fit and the
unfit, were similarly infected. But there were circumstances,
certain ones, that were especially favorable
to the disease. A crowded urban environment was
clearly one, where people were streaming in
and out, in closely packed milieus:
schools, theaters, barracks,
naval ships, tenement buildings,
college dormitories. In all the epidemics of
influenza, except 1918 to ’20, there was also a strong
predilection of the influenza virus for the infants and the
elderly. There also tended to be an
over-representation of people with pre-existing respiratory
diseases– say tuberculosis or
bronchitis–or people with immunosuppressive diseases.
The great example,
until the HIV/AIDS era, was, of course,
malaria, and malarial victims were highly susceptible to
influenza. So, the tubercular and the
malarial died massively during influenza pandemics.
A typical graph then of the
influenza mortality would show a neat U-shaped curve,
spiked at both ends of the age spectrum of the population,
the very young and the elderly. Another common feature of
influenza pandemics was pronounced seasonality.
In the Northern Hemisphere,
influenza almost invariably peaked in the winter months,
November to February, and ended with the coming of
warm weather in the spring. The reasons for–good
epidemiological explanations have to do partly with human
behavior. People tend to congregate
indoors in the winter, often in buildings and rooms
that are poorly ventilated. The virus itself doesn’t
survive well in an environment where there’s sunlight and high
humidity, and winter is a time when
people tend to sneeze and cough more than at other times.
What are some other features of
flu pandemics? One is short duration.
This helps to understand
societal responses as well. We know that plague and cholera
tended to lay siege to a locality for months,
and in the community it felt quite like that.
But flu tended to last just a
few weeks, and then to move on. It was true also that there was
a high morbidity–that is, lots of people would fall ill
from influenza–but there was a low case fatality rate.
The overall mortality would be
large simply because of the large numbers of sufferers.
The kill rate was low.
In the nineteenth century,
influenza, however, killed far more people than
cholera, and a stark contrast then could be drawn.
Flu seems to be
quintessentially a contagious disease.
But since you’re interested in
the debate between– this is one of your favorites,
I’m sure– between anticontagionism and
contagionism, we might point out to you that
even although you think it seems to be self-evident that
influenza, the grippe, the flu is
contagious, that many of the, in fact the dominant current,
still in the 1890s, was that influenza was not
contagious. And the eminent British
epidemiologist, Charles Creighton,
still held to anticontagionism regarding this disease,
down into the 1890s. Well, what sorts of things held
Creighton back from accepting influenza as an infectious
disease? First he argued the disease
would affect most parts of a country in the same two or three
weeks. There simply wasn’t time for a
contagious disease to spread with that extreme rapidity,
he thought. He also thought within a
smaller radius it seemed to affect everyone,
say in a household, more or less simultaneously.
Everyone would fall ill at once.
So, it seemed there wasn’t time
for contagion. And it was this simultaneous,
sudden outbreak of influenza that gave it some of its
traditional names. It was called the grippe;
not only in French, la grippe,
but also in English in the nineteenth century it was
referred to as grippe. And partly that’s because it
seemed suddenly to seize people in its grasp.
Typically, you could be healthy
at breakfast, only to find yourself suffering
with chills, fever, aching bones and nausea by
lunchtime. Similarly, Moscow seemed,
to physicians, to be healthy on the first of
November, 1889, but by the middle of the month
the disease was everywhere. Shops and schools were closed,
commerce nearly ground to a halt.
And this gave it–was part of
the reason it got its other name, influenza.
This was an Italian word
meaning influence, and in this case people
speculated about the influence of some cosmic factor that would
disturb the microcosm as well. Perhaps it was the influence of
the stars or the heavens that poisoned or corrupted the
atmosphere and lay low whole cities all at once.
What about symptoms,
effects on the individual? I think we can be brief,
because it’s probably very familiar to you,
from personal experience; that is, seasonal influenza.
The onset, as we’ve said,
is normally sudden. The symptoms then are ones that
you know: a high fever, 100 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit,
typically; an unproductive cough;
aching of muscles in the back, the legs;
watery eyes; sometimes nausea and vomiting;
general malaise; headache;
pain in the joints; sometimes dizziness;
and a general sense of fatigue and weakness.
Typically the acute phase would
last three to five days, and for a few days more you’d
suffer from your cough and from lethargy.
And then, in the vast number of
cases, there would be recovery. Flu, for young adults in good
health, enjoyed a reputation as a nasty but mercifully short,
and usually not serious, affliction.
Influenza in the middle of the
nineteenth century– that is, at least before the
cataclysm of 1889 and 1890– was–people joked about it,
that it was a disease that was so unimportant that the only
physicians who gave it much attention were those who simply
had too few patients, and so started treating people
with flu as a means of enhancing their income.
On the other hand,
for infants, for the elderly and those with
chronic disease, it sometimes led to serious and
even fatal complications; and it was the complications,
much more than the flu, that tended to kill.
Patients who didn’t recover
after three or four days then moved on to serious
complications like pneumonia or bronchitis.
And about once a century,
a strain of influenza that was not seasonal but pandemic
appeared, and demonstrated that flu can
in fact, under certain conditions,
be one of the most deadly of all diseases.
Well, what about treatment?
Today, as in the past,
there’s no specific remedy for influenza, as we’ve been
reminded by recent events in the newspapers.
The disease is self-limiting
normally, and simply runs its course.
So, therapy is supportive and
symptomatic, rest and nursing care, more than active medical
intervention. In the nineteenth century this
was also recognized, and physicians weren’t inclined
to try heroic remedies, as they did say with Asiatic
cholera. But there were certain attempts
at therapeutics in the nineteenth century,
and even after World War I people were given aspirin,
cinnamon with milk to lower temperature,
fluids and nourishment, bed rest.
Quinine was administered to
lower the fever. There were warm baths for
hydrotherapy; oxygen sometimes administered
to patients with respiratory complications.
And some physicians recommended
caffeine to raise the flagging animal energy,
as it was called. Today the only actual
therapeutics is antibiotics, but they don’t combat the
influenza itself, but its complication of
pneumonia. Well, against that background,
let’s look more closely at the Spanish influenza–
the Spanish Lady, the Spanish grippe,
as it was called–from 1918 to 1920.
Well, first you’ll probably
wonder, why this Spanish association?
And the reason has actually
nothing to do with Spain itself and disease.
It was simply that Spain was
not a belligerent in the First World War, and therefore was
free of censorship of the media. Hence a free press reported the
medical crisis there extensively.
A popular theory in circulation
these days is that perhaps the Spanish Lady originated not in
Spain at all, but in Kansas.
In any event,
on the morning of–finding the case zero is a perilous art,
but let’s say that at least this much is known–
on the morning of the eleventh of March,
1918, at Fort Riley, the cook, Albert Gitchell,
reported sick. By noon, the camp infirmary had
some 100 cases, and these were the earliest
known examples of this new influenza.
There’s some background that
helps us comprehend the extraordinary case of 1918 to
1920. As in the past,
mutations occurred, and in this time produced a new
strain that turned out to be more virulent than any in
influenza’s history. Its mode of communication was
identical to other flu pandemics, but its effects on
both the individual and society were radically different.
So, let’s talk about this
pandemic as coming in four waves.
The first was in the spring of
1918, and was relatively mild, in March and April.
It soon passed,
and it attracted little attention.
Wartime press censorship was
partly a factor, but people were simply
preoccupied with the war and not with the presence of a mild
outbreak of a well-known and common disease.
The second wave was the fall of
1918, which was the worldwide disaster.
It began in August with
simultaneous explosions in places as far apart as Sierra
Leone, Boston in this country, Brest in France;
a common feature being that these were all port cities,
and had an important role in the movements of troops and
supplies. In this case,
one could argue that not only the war itself,
but also the coming of peace, contributed to the spread of
the flu. Armistice Day itself produced
huge crowds and gatherings, which were not propitious for
stopping the spread of the disease.
Then came the spring of 1919,
a less, much less, mercifully less severe wave.
And then finally January,
February of 1920, the fourth wave of the Spanish
Lady, which was mild, and limited in its morbidity
even. Partly, of course,
because by then so many people were already immune.
Well, there are a number of
features of the Spanish Lady that made her unique.
The first was that it possessed
an extraordinary mortality and morbidity.
Comparing it with normal
outbreaks of influenza, it’s impossible to generate
precise statistics. But there are speculations that
this was perhaps, in absolute terms,
the greatest demographic shock that humanity had ever
experienced from infectious diseases.
More people died of influenza
than of casualties in the First World War.
Worldwide, some estimates–the
estimates vary widely, so one has to take them with
great caution. But they ranged from 25,000,000
people perishing, upwards to–the highest
estimates are about 100,000,000. In the United States it’s
pretty well known that at least 675,000 people perished;
more than American casualties in all twentieth-century wars;
ten times the numbers killed in First World War.
In a normal–if there is such a
thing–influenza outbreak, a case fatality rate might be
something like 0.1 percent. In the case of the Spanish
influenza, the case fatality rate was just
above 2.5 percent, and this yielded a vast total
mortality, because indeed,
as it seemed at the time, almost everyone was infected.
Let’s look at a slide of the
death rates. You can see the influenza,
the great wave in October, November, December of 1918.
The black is 1918–rather,
sorry, is the average 1911 to 1917, and the grey is 1918.
So, this compares influenza
then with what we might call normal influenza.
You can see the extraordinary
new mortality. Another feature of this
influenza was the lack of understanding of the disease
when it broke out. Indeed, I’d like to quote
Victor Vaughan, who directed public health in
the United States Army against the Spanish Lady.
And he said,
and I’m quoting: “Doctors know no more
about the flu than fourteenth-century Florentines
did about the Black Death.” And I think it’s important to
understand this idea of a sense of helplessness facing this
medical catastrophe. Some physicians indeed,
in 1918, termed what they were facing “epidemic
pneumonia.” And then, as now,
there was no effective treatment.
The symptoms were distinctive.
As you now know from reading
Crosby, this influenza was fulminant,
and post-mortem lung examinations revealed things
that were unlike anything that examining physicians had seen
before. Enormous quantities of bloody
fluid, like a froth, filling the lungs.
on their first encounter, suspected that this was a kind
of pneumonic plague. Right here in New Haven,
in the New Haven Hospital, pathologists wrote that the
devastation caused to the lungs more than anything else
resembled the effects of poisonous gases used in World
War I,-like phosgene or chlorine,
were the comparisons that came to their mind.
although other organs of the body could be affected–
the spleen, for example–the impact of the Spanish Lady on
the lungs was so overwhelming that that alone was often the
cause of death, and pulmonary effects were
almost the only ones that people noticed.
Let me read a passage from
Katherine Anne Porter, the famous writer,
Pale Horse, Pale Rider,
where she was herself a victim of the influenza.
And she writes here in the
third person, but she’s describing her own
symptoms, and I think it’s worth noting
how she felt: “Silenced,
Miranda sank easily through deeps upon deeps of darkness,
until she lay like a stone at the farthest bottom of life,
knowing herself to be blind, deaf, speechless,
no longer aware of the members of her own body,
entirely withdrawn from all human concerns,
yet alive with a peculiar lucidity and coherence.
All notions of the mind,
the reasonable inquiries of doubt,
all ties of blood and desires of the heart,
dissolved and fell away from her, and there remained only a
minute, fiercely burning particle of
being that knew itself alone, that relied upon nothing beyond
itself for its strength, not susceptible to any appeal
or inducement, being itself composed entirely
of one single motive, the stubborn will to live.
This fiery, motionless particle
set itself unaided to resist destruction,
to survive, and to be in its own madness of being,
motiveless and planless, beyond that one essential end.
She felt, without warning,
a vague tremor of apprehension, some small flick of distrust in
her joy. A thin frost touched the edges
of this confident tranquility. Something, somebody was missing.
She’d lost something.
She had left something valuable
in another country. What could it be?
‘There are no trees,
no trees here,’ she said in fright.
‘I’ve left something
unfinished.’ A thought struggled at the back
of her mind, came clearly as a voice in her ear.
‘Where are the dead?
We’ve forgotten the dead.
The dead, where are they?’
At once, as if a curtain had
fallen, the bright landscape faded.
She was alone in a strange
stony place of bitter cold, picking her way along a steep
path of slippery snow, calling out,
‘Oh I must go back. But in what direction?’
a terrible compelling pain, running through her veins like
heavy fire. The stench of corruption filled
her nostrils. The sweetish,
sickening smell of rotting flesh and pus.
She opened her eyes and saw
pale light through a coarse white cloth over her face,
and she knew that the smell of death was in her own body,
and she struggled to lift her hand.”
There are also pictures
of–this is a famous painting of Edvard Munch,
After the Influenza, in 1919.
Or this is also–in fact,
this is called After the Flu, painted in 1919.
A doctor wrote that his
patients died, struggling to clear their
airways of a blood-tinged froth that gushed from their noses and
mouths. The fluid then filled the
respiratory system, from the trachea to the tiniest
alveoli and bronchioles. And at post-mortem examination
the lungs were greatly distended, and when pressed,
even lightly, oozed with blood-tinged fluid
and yellow pus. The walls of the alveoli
collapsed under the pressure, leaving a formless mass where
neither blood nor air could flow freely,
and the patient died of asphyxia, or the blockage of
pulmonary circulation. Let me show you two pictures of
the lungs of a young woman who died of the Spanish Lady at the
New Haven Hospital, and I think you can see the
enormous and terrifying destruction of the lungs that
occurred. Well, in addition,
there were important sequelae. One feature of the Spanish Lady
was the distinctive length of convalescence.
And also there were
neurological aftereffects, protracted depression,
and there is speculation that throughout the 1920s there was
an outbreak of neurological afflictions,
that Oliver Sacks deals with in his famous book
Awakenings. There’s some dispute about
whether this was an authentic, among authentic sequelae of the
Spanish influenza, but it is at least plausible.
Another feature that made this
pandemic distinctive was the age profile of the victims.
We’ve seen how normally in
influenza there’s a U-shaped curve.
It does what seems normal to
people, attacking the very young and the elderly.
The Spanish Lady instead had a
preference for adults in the twenty to forty-year age group.
And so it produced something
that seemed highly unnatural, a W-shaped curve,
with a spike in the middle, afflicting the people in the
prime of life. Victor Vaughan again observed
that the Spanish flu imitated the war itself,
and that it killed young adults.
Like war, he said,
this infection kills young, vigorous, robust adults.
The reasons are still
mysterious. But one could point to a couple
of partial factors. Perhaps the elderly had some
immunity left over from the great pandemic of 1889 to ’90.
And it was the young,
of course, epidemiologically, who most directly experienced
the war and military service, in close, crowded conditions;
just the young population, most at risk.
And for those of you who think
that working out at the gym protects you from influenza
pandemics, I would point out that the
physically fit also fell ill in comparable numbers.
John Hellum, the U.S.
pentathlon champion–that is,
someone who did the broad jump, discus, javelin,
200-meters and 1500 meters–died in October 1918 of
the flu. As did Jackie O’Shaughnessy,
who was the U.S. National quarter-mile champion.
So, physical fitness had
nothing to do with survival from the influenza.
Let me show you a graph.
This is the notorious U-shaped
curve of the influenza. And you see the two curves
together. The dotted line is normal
influenza, and this solid line, with the terrible W in the
middle, is the mortality from the Spanish Lady.
what happened with public health?
And here a major feature is to
point out– and we should think of this in
terms of lessons for preparedness today–
was the way that the public health service was overwhelmed.
It was overwhelmed in part
because of the extreme rapidity with which this disease,
through its airborne transmission,
was spread; by the speed of transportation,
and the short incubation period of the disease.
It was also true that there is
a percentage–perhaps ten percent, in the Spanish Lady–of
people who are asymptomatic carriers.
Influenza also was not a
reportable disease. It was maximized also because
of the unavoidable and uncontrollable movement of
troops, because of the war. But in addition,
there was a lack–and we might think about this–
of preparation for just such an emergency,
a shortage of doctors, nurses, hospital beds and space
on hospital wards. Influenza also has the terrible
feature, unlike cholera for example,
that it creates chaos within the health system itself,
by striking down caregivers who are among those who are most
vulnerable. And then there was the war
itself, in which doctors and nurses were mobilized to deal
with the victims of the conflict.
So, there were drastic
shortages of healthcare personnel available to the
civilian population. Rupert Blue,
whom you will remember from the Barbary Plague,
was a director of public health services during the crisis,
and he was forced to lure doctors and nurses out of
retirement, to help deal with the emergency;
to recruit even from old-age homes.
Well, what were the measures
adopted to deal with the crisis? Anti-flu measures,
by this time, were based on the premise that
this was a contagious disease, and the understanding that
influenza was spread somehow through the air.
A first major goal was to
prevent those who were healthy from inhaling the contaminated
air of the infected. To that end,
public gatherings and assemblies of large numbers of
people at close quarters were banned.
Public institutions were
closed: schools, dancehalls, movie theaters,
bars. Churches in this country were
allowed to remain open, but the number of services was
greatly reduced. In many cities,
people seen by the police to be coughing and sneezing,
without covering their faces, were stopped and fined.
The New York City Department of
Health posted some 10,000 placards around the city,
bearing a message that was familiar to the public,
because of its similarity to the urgings of the campaign
against tuberculosis. So, one can see the
anti-tuberculosis campaign preparing people,
in a sense, for dealing with influenza.
And in New York City the
placards said: to prevent the spread of
Spanish influenza, sneeze, cough or expectorate,
if you absolutely must, into your own handkerchief;
you’re in no danger if everyone should heed this warning.
Another widespread measure was
a practical application also. One was masking with gauze
masks, and some municipalities required their whole populations
to put on masks. San Francisco did so,
and so did San Diego. Another was disinfection
practices, applied in hospital wards, sickrooms and ambulances.
Trains too were washed down
with antiseptic solutions. You can see a picture of the
properly masked police. I think this is San Francisco.
And here you can see the
general masking of the whole population.
And this was a public notice,
a public health poster from Kingston, New York or–and it
says about the measures I’ve told you about;
theaters, churches, schools, hospitals,
and so forth. Or you can see here another
poster for public health. State boards of health also
isolated the ill through quarantine, as far as possible,
and the military tried to quarantine its training camps.
On hospital wards,
sheets were hung between beds. Ambulance trains were washed
down with antiseptic. People were urged to avoid
nervous and physical exhaustion. You can see a long legacy of
this idea. You remember Laennec talking
about the passions tristes, the sad passions,
and their influence on your constitution.
So, some of the advice had a
really long history that you’ll recognize.
And they also cautioned you to
avoid chills. They urged people to gargle
with warm water and salt, and to spray saline solutions
up their nose, to wear gauze masks.
And legislation was passed to
prevent the use of common drinking cups.
Some people sprayed their
nostrils with carbolic acid spray,
and some towns set up fines to punish people they called–
this was one of the jargons at the time–
the open-face sneezer. New York City modified the
opening hours of stores and businesses in order to stagger
rush hour, so that subway trains and trams
would not be so crowded and not be so dangerous.
Congress voted special funds to
enable Surgeon General Rupert Blue to recruit thousands of
doctors and hundreds of nurses. But, as I said,
the war effort complicated his task, and he turned to people
who’d retired. And those were other–I wanted
to show you a camp. The fact that it was wartime
made it easy for the government to induce people to accept
rigorous measures. People by this time had grown
used, by 1918, to invasive and restrictive
measures. They already knew all about the
draft, or rationing, or daylight savings time.
But existing facilities were
inadequate to cope with a sudden surge, and so the general
public, one can see, suffering as a result of that.
I wanted to mention that there
were also popular remedies that people adapted,
and especially in rural areas, recourse to folk remedies and
magic. Onion soup was thought to be a
preventative. People stuffed salt up their
nostrils to ward off danger. They wore garlic around their
neck, as they had in Florence in the time of bubonic plague.
They burned hot charcoals with
sulfur or brown sugar, to give off a reassuring
protective aroma; you can recognize this too from
the plague. There were rumors that the
disease perhaps was an act of bio-terror.
There were thoughts that there
were mysterious German agents who landed on U-boats and
started the epidemic. There were suspicious too that
poisonous gases associated with the war effort had escaped and
caused the disaster. Well, I will run out of time
now, and just say that one of the things to think about then
are what are possible lessons? And I just wanted to leave us
to think, as we deal with our own H1N1,
and possibly whatever its successor is,
that clearly in 1918 and ’19, there’s a collective memory in
the public health service of the vulnerability of a society of
critically ill patients, turned away from hospitals,
that were full to bursting, with no care available because
the system was overwhelmed. And there’s a fear then of what
about the effects now of the impact of organized care
medicine, on a managed care basis,
with cost-cutting search for savings in our system;
the commitment to ridding hospitals of excess capacity and
spare beds. And so this approach raises the
question of what would happen in another time when the system
might once again be tested?