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The Mysterious Influenza - 1918

The Epidemic of Spanish Influenza Puts a Five Weeks' Stop to All Red Cross Unit Work in South Ohio.

The Epidemic of Spanish Influenza Puts a Five Weeks' Stop to All Red Cross Unit Work in South Ohio. So Many Red Cross Workers Toiled for the Cause in Their Homes. Shown Above, a Mother and Daughter Secured a "Patch" From Each Family Free From the Epidemic and Worked Them Into the Quilt Shown, for the Soldiers at Miamitown, Ohio. Photograph by Felix J. Koch Taken 27 October 1918. National Archives and Records Administration RG 165-WW 269B56. NARA ID # 45499401. GGA Image ID # 1505732dae

A curious thing about outbreaks of influenza is the tendency to look upon each appearance as a new disease and bestow upon it a new name. That was done with the first "grippe" epidemic of many years since, and it has been repeated in the present instance.

Another curious fact is the inability of medical men, admitted, in a leading editorial, by The Journal of the American Medical Association (Chicago, October 5), to agree on the exact cause of the disease or on the cause of its tendency to culminate in epidemics at intervals.

"Influenza" is simply the Italian word for "influence," and this morbific "influence," we are told, is still veiled in mystery.

Says the editorial leader writer of The Journal: "Wide-spread outbreaks of acute respiratory infection have occurred at irregular intervals for many centuries. The general clinical manifestations and the complications have been always practically the same.

Owing to conditions that are far from being adequately understood, such infection now and again spreads over the world with great rapidity and in a man net that was altogether mysterious and disconcerting until we learned that it never spreads faster than human travel.

It seems as if in the course of evolutionary processes there suddenly is liberated a form of infectious agent against which large numbers of people offer little or no resistance and which is transmitted readily from person to person under the - most diverse hygienic and geographic circumstances.

That the peculiarly subtle nature of these outbreaks was recognized long before the bacteriologic era is indicated by the introduction of the name influenza, which means, literally, influence. The question as to the real nature of this 'influence,' it must be acknowledged, is not settled definitely.

The discovery by Pfeiffer in 1890, at the time of the last pandemic, of the influenza bacillus in the sputum and respiratory tract of influenza patients seemed, it is true, to have settled the matter.

At any rate, Pfeiffer's claim that he had discovered the cause of influenza secured fairly general acceptance, except possibly in France.

"Since then, however, the influenza bacillus had been found to be present in practically all cases of whooping-cough and in a large percentage of the cases of measles and scarlet-fever, as well as in tuberculosis and chronic bronchitis.

"Minor epidemics of acute respiratory infection, clinically regarded as epidemics of influenza, have occurred in which the influenza bacillus was not present regularly in the sputum or the respiratory tract. . ..

"The production of influenza in animals by injections of pure cultures of the bacillus has not given any decisive results. No distinctive immunologic reaction has been discovered, showing that the body reacts specifically to the influenza bacillus in the course of influenza.

"In truth, the evidence in favor of the influenza bacillus is not any stronger or different from that which can be urged in favor of the streptococcus, pneumococcus, or other bacteria.

"And if we grant the possibility that the influenza bacillus may cause outbreaks of influenza, wherein lies the deep difference between such strains of the bacillus and the strains found in whooping-cough, measles, and other conditions?

"The 'influence' in influenza is still veiled in mystery."

Advice of The New York 'Health Department to Persons with Influenza

  • If you feel sick all over, with chilliness 0r aching of the bones, and with feverishness and headache, perhaps with a cold in the head or throat, you are probably getting influenza.

Go to bed and, until you can get a doctor, do these things:

  • Take castor-oil or a dose of salts to move the bowels.
  • Keep reasonably but not too well covered, and keep fresh air in the room, best by opening a window at the top.
  • Take only simple, plain food, such as milk, milk-soups, gruels, or porridge, or any cereals, and bread and butter, and any kind of broth, or mashed potatoes; also eggs, but not more than two a day. Do not take any meat, or any wine, beer, whisky, or other spirits, unless you are ordered to by the doctor.
  • Do not get up, unless it is absolutely necessary, and then do not walk about and expose yourself to cold, and do not go about in bare feet. In this way you will avoid getting pneumonia or bronchitis.
  • Do not take any medicine unless ordered by a doctor.
  • Do not cough or sneeze in the face of other people.
  • You should drink plenty of plain water all through the sickness.
  • Stay in bed until you have no fever and are feeling much better. Stay in the house two or three days longer.
  • If you are not much better, or practically well in two or three days, call a doctor, if you have not done so already, or ask the nearest hospital for help, or call the nearest nursing center, or notify the nearest Board of Health Clinic.

"The Mysterious Influenza," in The Literary Digest, New York: Funk & Wagnalls, Vol. LIX, No. 5, Whole No. 1489, 2 November 1918, p. 20.

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