Not everyone agrees with getting the flu shot, and I get that. Still, even though there have been issues with the flu shot, it has also been something, along with medicines that has helped to prevent breakouts like the flu pandemic that hit Philadelphia on this day, September 28, 1918. It is believed that a Liberty Loan parade prompted the outbreak in Philadelphia, and before the outbreak was over, an estimated 30 million people worldwide were dead. As most of us know, influenza is a virus that attacks the respiratory system, is highly contagious, and mutates very quickly to avoid being killed by the human immune system. A prior pandemic of the flu in 1889 killed thousands all over the world, but it was nothing like the 1918 Flu Pandemic in its deadliness.
It is thought that the 1918 flu pandemic originated with a bird or farm animal in the American Midwest early that year. It may have traveled among birds, pigs, sheep, moose, bison, and elk, eventually mutating to the version that took hold in the human population that year. Like most outbreaks, this one started slowly, but as people moved from place to place, and others came in to help, it began to spread like wildfire. Once it spread to Europe later in the year, through some of the 200,000 American troops shipped out to fight in World War I, it was out of control. It affected every area of life, and people wore masks to avoid contact with the virus.
By June 1918, it had largely disappeared in North America, but only after taking a considerable toll on the people. Over the summer of 1918, it spread quickly over Europe. It’s first stop seems to have been in Spain, and it took so many lives there, that it was named the Spanish Flu. This flu was highly unusual, because it seemed to affect strong people in the prime of their lives rather than babies and the elderly. By the end of the summer, about 10,000 people were dead. In most cases, hemorrhages in the nose and lungs killed victims within three days. By fall, it was completely out of control. By the time it reached London and Boston in September, it was a far worse strain that it had been before. Twelve thousand soldiers came down with the flu in Massachusetts in mid-September. Philadelphia was the hardest hit city in the United States with a loss of nearly 12,000. The whole city was quarantined. In the United States, five out of every thousand people fell victim to the flu. Other countries were far worse, some as much as ten, fifteen or even thirty five per thousand, with 20 million people dying in India alone. In the end, more people died from the influenza pandemic, than from all of the battles of World War I combined.