Obama Declares Swine Flu National Emergency; Has 1918 Spanish Flu Returned?


1918 Spanish Flu Ward-Is History Repeating?

1918 Spanish Flu Ward-Is History Repeating?

The CDC reports in week 41, 12000 specimens were tested and nearly 5000 came back positive.  The number hospitalizations has risen from less than 500 to over 2500 in the past 7 weeks with a jump of about 67% in the past week alone.  The number of weekly deaths has gone from just over 25 7 weeks ago to nearly 100 in the past week with a week 40 to week 41 jump of about 30%.

H1N1 Cases Increasing Rather Rapidly

H1N1 Cases Increasing Rather Rapidly

President Obama has declared a National Emergency regarding the Swine Flu outbreak.  This may come as a surprise to many Americans as it seems that we have been led to believe that the whole issue of the H1N1 “Swine Flu” was just a bunch of hype and its not that bad.  The number of cases reported in the United States is relatively small but is rising pretty rapidly. 

H1N1 Hospitalizations/Deaths Rising

H1N1 Hospitalizations/Deaths Rising

Those number don’t sound like much but, according to the Department of Homeland Security, the Spanish Flu of the early 20th century was also an H1N1 strain.  It is interesting because in the text, they also refer to the Spanish Flu as a swine flu.  Is it the same thing? Is it like Michael Myers and come back again?  It’s hard to say.  I’ve seen some analysis reports claiming its not the same as the Spanish Flu.   But, the CDC reported that the Swine Flu (H1N1) is now widespread in 46 states in the nation and that so far, 20,000 people have been hospitalized with over 1000 dead.  The report does say that is pretty typical for the height of the flu season in the US but, it’s not the height of the flu season yet.  That is typically expected between the end of November and early March.  See, it’s that kind of thing that has me concerned.  And the numbers provided are only for those cases tested.  Let us hope that it is indeed just a little more difficult flu than typical and we don’t end up facing the same thing that the world faced 91 years ago.

Spanish Flu Death Chart 1918-1919

Spanish Flu Death Chart 1918-1919

On This Date in History: In 1918, World War I (The Great War) was winding down. The Americans had gotten into the game and helped turn the tide against the Hun. About 15-20 Million people died in that global conflict. But, toward the end of the war, another killer was unleashed. What has been called the Spanish Flu Pandemic took about 50 million lives world wide according to the CDC with some estimates as high as 100 million. It got the moniker “Spanish Flu” because it reportedly took 8 million lives in that country in May 1918. However, the origin of the flu is a bit murky and it probably was not Spain. Indeed, researchers today are still trying to learn more about it. A couple of sources claim that it started at Fort Riley, Kansas when a soldier became sick just prior to his shipping out to Europe in March 1918. But, a more reliable source (Stanford University) claims that the virus probably became mutated in China into a strain that was resistant to any treatment. While one of the first cases in the US was the soldier who went to Europe from Fort Riley, Kansas it wasn’t until August 18, 1918 that the killer strain came to the shores of the new world. The Norwegian Liner Bergensfjord arrived in Brooklyn with a full load of passengers, including 100 who became ill on the voyage. Four of those had died and a fifth died after the ship docked making that pour sole the first US death from the Spanish Flu.

In 1918 Healthy Measures Encouraged for War Production Sake, not Public Heatlh

In 1918 Healthy Measures Encouraged for War Production Sake, not Public Heatlh

In the fall and spring, people in the US were dying daily. One day in Philadelphia, 528 people died and the bodies were collected by horse drawn carts. On “Black Thursday” in Chicago, nearly 400 died. Schools and theatres were closed and it was common to see people wearing face masks. On October 23, 1918, 815 people died from the flu in New York City. On This Date in 1918, 6000 new flu cases were reported in Ohio alone.   Officials were considering banning in-home Halloween activities. 

 The war was certainly an aspect of the world situation that sped up the spread of the virus. Many allies thought it was some sort of biological warfare set loose by the Germans. Curiously, the end of the war in November 1918 may have hastened its spread as people took to the streets to congregate and party to celebrate, thus raising the prospcts of it going from person to person. In the US, the deathtoll has been set between 650,000 and 700,000. This article concerning the death of David Baltimore on this date in 1918 says that 200,000 Americans died from the Spanish Flu in October 1918 alone.

Look at huge US Life Expectancy Drop in 1918

Look at huge US Life Expectancy Drop in 1918

Here’s the kicker…no one knows why this flu was so fatal. It affected about 1/3 of the total world population. Even President Wilson came down with it. Recently, tissue from a dead soldier who died from the virus was collected in an attempt to better understand it. Mysteriously, the flu pandemic ended abruptly in 1919….though some sources claim 1920. Either way, it came and went and nothing has come close to it again in scale and scope of the suffering it brought. In the US alone, the life expectancy statistics (see chart at left)  fell by 10 years. Because of the mystery of the Spanish Flu pandemic relating to the virus itself, its origin, its spread and its disappearance, researchers today are quite concerned about something new, like the bird flu and the Swine Flue. It is the reason why such drastic measures were taken to try to stop any hint of the bird flu in Asia before it could get into the human population and why the Swine Flu got such huge media attention at the outset. 

Employees at Schools in 1918 Took No Chances

Employees at Schools in 1918 Took No Chances

At first, officials were pretty aggressive but as the year went on, it seems that the Swine Flu has become the butt of jokes for comedians.  They even changed the name to H1N1 Flu; perhaps in deference to pig owners and perhaps to make it sound not so menacing.  But, I’ve had 5% of my students in my class hospitalized in the first two months of the school year.  It’s not even winter time and I’m only talking about the first two months of the semester.  These are 20-somethings…typically the least vulnerable to sickness.  I have to say, I’m a bit concerned that the public may be taking the potential threat too lightly.

Wednesday Morning

Wednesday Morning

Weather Bottom Line:  Weather looks great for Sunday.  Monday there is a slight weakness in the atmosphere that may produce a few showers but I think it will mainly just create some clouds.  Wednesday evening, I believe rain chances will be greatly enhanced and I wouldn’t be surprised to see thunderstorm activity show up and even possibly have the boys at the Severe Storms Prediction Center have some sort of designation for our area.  We’ll have to wait to see how it shakes out.

One Response

  1. And, there risks associated with the flu beyond the symptoms that bring on great discomfort.

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