The Deadliest Flu in History (6)
New York: Failure to understand – Failure with a vaccine
Deadliest Flu (6): Influenza, every person alive or dead, suffered from a virus transmitted over time, as the host changed. Tens of millions in the United States were sick or dead. In larger cities, each family reported one person in the family with influenza.
In Texas, San Antonio, half of its population was ill, yet most recovered. These people felt extremely ill, only seeing death before them, but within ten days, all seemed well, and the disease seemed to blow away from the City of San Antonio.
The cases in Texas were not people suffering from the same virus or host. As discussed previously, those suffering from the new virus suffered so badly, with researchers believing it was the black plague. At the same time, the United States was fighting two to three million cases of pneumonia.
The Scientists working on the virus; Oswald Avery at Rockefeller Institute in NYC, William Park and Anna Williams at the NYC Department of Public Health, and Paul Lewis of Philadelphia.
Avery would work on something that would follow scientists for decades, first from frustration and then open the door to the world, even now. Lewis would work, but his work would lead to tragedy for him and his family. Park and Williams would lead others down the road to discovery.
On January 1, 1918, Tammany Hall was now in control of New York City, similar to what we discussed happening in the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia. Before January 1st of that year, the department of health was run by Herman Biggs, his career would end the first of the year, in 1918. Biggs considered a pioneer in the field who built the department from the ground up. Herman Biggs would leave the department when Tammany Hall cleaned house, and a new department head named Royal Copeland took over; a favor. Copeland, a homeopathic, never claimed to be a doctor. Copeland had his own ambitions, it did not concern public health, and all he wanted to do is climb the ladder regarding politics, so the people trusted this person with their life.
Things changed rather quickly in the big city. Copeland had the opportunity to run for a United States Senate seat and left the department of health. The big city looked toward Park, who ran the cities lab for thirteen years; he remained clear from politics.
At the time, Parks was “typing” pneumonia so labs would give the correct treatment quickly. This “typing” came about when Avery and Cole, from Rockefeller Institute, found a serum against type one and two of pneumonia. Park had to keep the department of health in NYC sound, so with Biggs gone, he kept up his work and practically ran the department.
On Sept. 15, 1918, New York City would have its first death from influenza, a civilian. It reminded many at the proceeding decade department when Parks and others dealt with two polio epidemics and knew something began to brew.
They were correct as Parks and others observed more people enter the hospitals in the big city. It came to a point when the Public Health Department practically closed the city, but at the time, Dr. Royal S. Copeland was still in charge, not yet in Washington, D.C., and he did nothing to separate the sick from the well. If you recall, in Rockford, Illinois, when the Chief at the Military Camp refused to follow Washington’s orders. Now, in NYC, the people had a person with no education on being a doctor.
Three days after the first death from influenza, Copeland demanded influenza to be a reportable disease. Now, a few more days would pass, and Copeland could no longer do as he was told to do, hide the truth, but he ordered a quarantine of victims. Copeland publically stated, “Other bronchial diseases and not the so-called Spanish Flu are said to be responsible for the illness of the majority of people, reported to be ill with influenza.” He was doing his best to know the difference between one virus or another. His speech, although jumbled, continued, “The health department is prepared to compel patients who may be a menace to the community to go to hospitals.” Copeland ended his speech with, “the disease is not getting away from the control of the health department but is decreasing.”
Remember, Parks had been following the disease for months, and once he heard Copeland, he believed nothing since he knew the virus had killed so many, and it was now in New York City. His research told him the City of Exeter, New Hampshire, became a floating morgue, but most of all, he realized the ships which entered the New York Harbor in July and August has carriers of the virus. There was one good thing Parks would note; political pressure gone due to the amount of illness.
By the late part of August, Parks, and Williams dedicated day and night to the disease, the light in the lab burned until daylight. When the middle of September arrived, both scientists were called to Camp Upton on Long Island. According to what they read on paper, the orders stated, “The disease had just arrived at the camp.”
Parks had an attitude that he was working for God. He donated his salary from the New York University to improve the lab where all of his work was taking place. Now he would be leaving again. Although leaving his home base, he believed in light. Parks thought the existing light was where he should concentrate, while other scientists were looking for a new light regarding the virus.
As a Scientist, he found himself working directly with the patients. With the existing light or knowledge, Parks and Williams had made mass productions of inexpensive antitoxin for diphtheria. Since then, Americans equaled with Europe when it came to science and medicine. Parks was acknowledged at an international conference for his view concerning Tuberculosis.
Anna Williams was totally a different person, especially as a scientist; she acted wild when outside of the lab. She drove her car at high speeds through heavy traffic, experimented riding with skydivers, and spent months learning how to take apart a car’s engine and put it back together again. At the age of forty-five, she wrote, “I was told today that it was quite pathetic that I had no particular friend.” Anna kept a diary, which she did not keep a secret. In one entry, she wrote, “There are degrees to everything, including friendship, and there is no sentimentality about my friendships with a little sentiment!”
Colleagues and other people believed Anna was jealous of those who lived a normal life, but she wrote, “I have had thrills.” In her diary, she wrote what mattered more was the love of discovery, love of winning, and love of knowledge.” She wrote, “I love the power to do, to think new things.”
Anna was fifty-five in 1918, and as you can tell, she and Park were different people, and in the lab, they had been joined at the hip.
They arrived at Camp Upton and received for their expert knowledge of vaccine therapy. The scientists were hoping their work with streptococci and pneumonia at Rockefeller Institutes would be a stepping-stone for geniuses.
When Parks and Williams began swabbing throats and nasal passages at Camp Upton, they told the Chief, they would pack them up, bring the specimens to NYC and begin.
Parks lab was a war zone, every scrap of evidence was inside the lab, but he still believed his lab could do better. Besides, he believed he would find a pathogen, vaccine, serum, and prepare a huge volume of the serum – he wanted to use this serum on a select number of people as experiments. He knew some people would become deathly ill. Parks managed to do this and monitored the people and all the work phases; he believed his way was right.
Park was surprised when people who worked for him became sick or died. He thought, “This is what happened during the Typhoid Outbreak.” He gave up on his plans and concentrated on one thing, telling the press, “What was this pathogen?”
Both Parks and Williams were isolated scientists, both slipping through fissures in the earth’s crust, and being pulled down. As the disease spread, the State of New York was terrified. People were now dying within days, like other outbreaks, and some dying a month later. These were the times when it was impossible to get a nurse or doctor. The papers reported nurses had been kidnapped and brought to homes within the City of New York, especially wealthy families.
The two Scientists gathered samples taken by technicians in various hospitals; it too had a name, “Delivering death.” As samples arrived, everything mattered within the lab, from sterilized test tubes, flasks, and numbering about two-hundred and fifty thousand tubes. The scientific approach could be dozens of ways to grow bacteria, although the pathogen was deemed time-consuming; Parks and Williams had no time.
The first report released read, “No results except obtained two fatal cases; one from Brooklyn and the other from Boston. In both cases, the lungs showed pneumonia beginning and abundant streptococci. No influenza bacilli in wither lungs.”
It finally took Parks to develop a serum from another scientist named Pfeiffer, who believed bacillus influenza, caused the previous epidemics. As mentioned earlier, Parks went after the light; he needed to confirm Pfeiffer’s work.
Bacillus influenza, difficult to find because it is so small it took cultures and blood specimens to grow, and it would grow only on the surface since it was dependent on oxygen.
Parks asked Williams to find the small bacillus while others in the lab worked on finding a new organism; Parks would not give up the fight.
Once Williams quickly perfected her own technique, she found bacillus influenza in eighty percent of the samples. One week later, Parks wired Pearce, “Bacillus influenza seemed to be the starting point of the disease,” and added, “of course, the possibility of some unknown virus may be the starting point.”
During these early days of the disease, and experimenting with new vaccines, most would be shipped up north from New York City, to be injected in horses which at the time were kept on a 175-acre farm.
Parks and Williams were not pleased. They believed how an animal reacts had nothing to do with the human body, and they were not sure it would follow the same course.
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)