The Deadliest Flu in History (1)

1918 Spanish Flu: 50 Million Deaths Worldwide

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Deadliest Flu (1): Everyone believed it was a time to celebrate when the war ended in 1918 as streets now filled with people screaming, “The War is over, wake up, wake up,” and paperboys took to the streets. 

People wrapped themselves in the American Flag and top hats, bands played down-street, and everyone seemed to be joyful, knowing the boys were coming home.

Spanish-flu-epidemic-Calgary-1918This happiness and joy would soon turn to dread when an odd rather strange sickness entered the United States, following the war, through the ports of Boston.  By the middle of September of 1918, a sickness hit the servicemen, and sick and dying rows were challenging medical scientists.

One scientist named Paul Lewis and a lieutenant commander in the war was awaiting his way back home, but he never expected to see the sick as he did in hospital wards.  His medical career was spent in a laboratory and not working directly with the patients. Ten years earlier, Paul Lewis, together with his mentor at the Rockefeller Institute in NYC, proved a virus caused polio, considered a landmark achievement.

Those who worked in the hospital clinic looked to this man for answers. He mentioned to those working he had seen cases similar to these once a ship docked in Philadelphia. Those sick were brought to a hospital and placed in isolation.   During the autopsy, he mentioned that their lungs looked to be like the men who died from poison gas from war, pneumonic plague, or a virulent form of the bubonic plague.  He also reported what those men had in PA., never spread.  The illness was out of control and rapidly spreading while it quickly took hold of your body, killing you with blood coming from every possible exit of one’s body.

Lewis agreed to take samples from those who were ill and do his work in the lab.  After all his testing, he believed it to be the influenza virus, and it would spread around the world.  This flu killed more than the plague, causing 50 million deaths worldwide, and he believed the form did enter the United Stated is PA., not from the ports of Boston.

This flu lasted over two years, but it is estimated that more than two-thirds of the deaths happened over twenty-four weeks and half of those within a three month period.

This was the fight against nature and science.  Paul Lewis and a few men and women knew about certain vaccines and anti-toxins, which are still in use today.  If you think about this situation, you would think they were placed on this earth to discover a cure for the flu before such a virus would hit home.  These were the pioneers. It would be late in the 19th century when medicine finally transformed America into one of the best countries for research and developing cures for new diseases.

Before this time, the credit did not go to the United States.  The first laboratory that would be used for medical students came to be in Harvard in 1871 – and you know, today we shout that the medical institution needs to be revamped, giving the power back to the doctor who knows the patient.  There was a time, long before, when medical students who worked on patients without instructions, one example, not knowing the legal dose of morphine and in Boston killed three people in a row. Those Americans continued to work in several laboratories and continued to hear about Europe and all that they had done and were doing. One country where medical science was next to nothing was Germany.

John Hopkins died in 1873, leaving 3.5 million dollars to fund a hospital and university.  The heads of the ivy league colleges wanted something to do with the plan. Still, the Quakers went against their advice and decided to construct the Johns Hopkins University after the greatest German universities.  It would be known that the Germans processed new knowledge, not teaching what they believed.  Things began to change in the United States.

Everything was left to Gilman, who left his role as President at the University of California after fights with State Legislators.  He came to the State of Maryland to construct and plan the John Hopkins Center.  It was then the famous Thomas Huxley came to America to become part of Hopkins, leaving Europe when Hopkins opened in 1876, and the medical school would open in 1893.  It was the luck, “I would say” of the Irish, but they don’t seem to fit into this scenario, but of the Quakers and the great scientists from Germany and Europe who put together an institution before the outbreak of the deadliest flu in the world.

The United States Army went from a few tens of thousands before the war to millions within a few months.  Hundreds and thousands of men took over camps on American and foreign soil before completion.  Men were jammed like sardines into barracks.  Most of the fighting soldiers lived through winter in tents. Hospitals were the last building to be constructed for the troops.

A nightmare came into the minds of doctors who were soldiers that some large epidemic would kill these men instead of war.

It would be the Rockefeller Institute in 1917 that poured into the camps, and they focused on pneumonia. Although this was already known to the scientists, the thought of this taking over and growing into a large epidemic was serious.

When researching this flu, it was the winter of 1918 – 1918 when the barracks were more than jammed-packed, and the coldest winter recorded east of the Rocky Mountains.  An outbreak of a disease and it was measles, known to hit the children.  Unlike children, when measles hits adults, it strikes hard and still does today.

When a soldier moved from one camp to another, he brought the measles with him.  By the fall of 1917, one in six measles cases reached the stage where it was catchy.  In San Antonio at Camp Travis, 4,571 men came down with the measles, but remember that the flu outbreak wasn’t far behind.  Men began to die of the measles. There was no vaccine to stop the spread of the disease.   So we see from the measles to the large pneumonia cases, caused by the measles by the most part struck 30,784 soldiers on American soil, killing 5,741 of them.  A scientist named Avery would come up with conclusions that made a huge mark in medicine, change the direction of all genetic research, and create modern molecular biology – but this is only as a reference, not to be part of this article.

Today the Center for Disease still links pneumonia and the flu together as the cause of death.

In a make-shift lab, the scientist George Sternberg while on post in the army, isolated the bacterium with his own saliva and inoculated rabbit, and learned that it killed, without knowing, along with Pasteur.  Pneumococcal is either the primary or secondary invader into the lungs.  Through a microscope, it looked like streptococcus in the lab, and when exposed to sunlight, this sample dies.   The sputum remains alive and survives in moist, dark rooms for ten days and is found on dust particles.  The virulent form was highly infectious.  In 1892 scientists were working feverishly to find an antidote against the disease.

Strange enough, outbreaks of this became highly known in Africa in the gold and diamond mines, killing forty percent of the men who became sick.  The mine owners in 1924 asked for a vaccine to protect the workers. A scientist named Wright developed a vaccine for typhoid, so he was called to work on a vaccine in Africa, and he developed one killing more men than he ever saved.  He was wrong, and a 1916 textbook called pneumonia would leave the body on its own, self-limited.  Americans challenged the conclusion.

In time they believed they found a vaccine to kill pneumonia, and the men at war were safe from this disease.  It was not known the flu was surfacing in Kansas in March of 1918, and the vaccine they had available was given to troops at Camp Upton on Long Island, and they used up all the vaccine.  No one vaccinated ever came down with pneumonia within three months, and studies show that 101 cases were reported among a large group of men on Long Island.

On June 4th, 1918, a meeting was held in New York concerning something worse than measles but something else, not the flu.  So began the contagious disease wards.

Other parts in this series:
The Deadliest Flu in History (1)
The Deadliest Flu in History (2)
The Deadliest Flu in History (3)
The Deadliest Flu in History (4)
The Deadliest Flu in History (5)
The Deadliest Flu in History (6)
The Deadliest Flu in History (7)
The Deadliest Flu in History (8)

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