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Flu epidemic sweeps area, causes deaths

STORY BY KEVIN MCKINNLEY | ALL THINGS SOUTHERN

During the early years of the 1900s many people must have truly felt the end times had arrived. Global war swept the planet in 1914 with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Serbia and within a matter of years the United States was sucked into what would become one of two European wars within 25 years.

By November 1918 the war was over. As many a war-weary family prepared to welcome their soldier home, a new invasion was waiting to unleash its torrents upon the nation –  a special type of flu that would kill more people worldwide than the ancient plagues of old.

In the early days of the 1918 flu epidemic, many a person probably knelt in prayer wondering if the disease sweeping the world was one of the plagues mentioned in the book of Revelation.

It’s possible to say that the flu that decimated the world in that year started in Central Europe. According to Medicalnewstoday.com, an epidemic is when the number of people infected with a disease rises well above what is expected in a country or region. A pandemic covers a much wider geographical area, often worldwide and is a much more severe outbreak.

The outbreak that killed 675,000 Americans and around 5 percent of the world’s population was called the Spanish Flu. Yet the name was misleading.

At the time, people believed it was worse in Spain or that it had originated in Spain. However, in 1918, the media in the U.S. and Western Europe was heavily censored because of the war effort; therefore, the newspaper reports were watered down by the American government so as not to damage morale.

Furthermore, President Woodrow Wilson would not publicly mention the epidemic out of fear of creating a national panic. The only way to completely eradicate the virus would have been to shut down factories and all other places where people gathered. This was impossible with a war going on.

Newspaper reporting locally was also apparently affected by federal censorship. The Monroe Journal, in November 1918, reported that the Spanish Flu originated in Spain and that it was no different than what was seen in the U.S during the winter of 1889-1890. The outbreak that winter was called the Russian Flu, yet the two types of flu were very different.

It is believed by some that the Spanish Flu reached the United States from the battlefields of Europe. The strain was the H1N1 variety.

Eventually the flu spread across the battle lines and infected Allied soldiers. The sickest men on the front lines were put on trains and sent to hospitals in the rear and thereby spread the disease all along the way. Men who were not as sick with the flu stayed in the trenches at the front lines and therefore the weaker strain of the disease did not spread to the general population; therefore, more people caught the more dangerous strain.

What made matters worse is that a soldier may have been healthy in the morning, come down with fever and chills by lunch and be dead by nightfall. Such was the dramatic nature of this strain of flu.

Within a short time, troops began to come home from the war. In Kansas, a military post made the first reports in the United States and within less than two weeks New York City had its first cases of the Spanish Flu.

Soon reports were circulating around the globe of the spread of the disease. Locally, residents of Alabama and Florida felt the outbreak as well.

The first reported cases in Alabama arose in Madison and Conecuh counties on Sept. 28, 1918.

Dr. J.W. Haygood, health officer for Conecuh County, reported six cases which had mostly been attributed to family members working in Pensacola and carrying the flu back home. Similar cases were reported in Brewton and Atmore. Families suffering from the disease were encouraged to wrap a black ribbon around their porch posts to warn the passer-by of the danger.

By Oct. 7, the governor’s office had ordered all public places closed until further notice. The flu condition was taking a toll on the economy and local services by this time. Stores were closed either by choice or because employees were too sick to work. Telephone companies had to limit their switchboard operators to only emergency calls because so many operators were sick there was no one to man the switch boards. Meanwhile, circuit judges around the state were forced to suspend their court calendars to control transmission of the disease.

By Oct. 15, 1918, Alabama authorities noted that 25,811 cases of Spanish Flu had been reported. State officials were overwhelmed in treating the pandemic and it is likely that these numbers were under-reported. In some parts of the state, coffins were in short supply, and the dead had to be stored in freezers until coffins could be shipped in.

As the disease progressed between late 1918 and early 1919, people begin to develop immunity to this strain of the flu and eventually the infection rates began to decline. Yet it was not until the summer of 1919 that the pandemic ended.

have been healthy in the morning, come down with fever and chills by lunch and be dead by nightfall. Such was the dramatic nature of this strain of flu.

Within a short time, troops began to come home from the war. In Kansas, a military post made the first reports in the United States and within less than two weeks New York City had its first cases of the Spanish Flu.

Soon reports were circulating around the globe of the spread of the disease. Locally, residents of Alabama and Florida felt the outbreak as well.

The first reported cases in Alabama arose in Madison and Conecuh counties on Sept. 28, 1918.

Dr. J.W. Haygood, health officer for Conecuh County, reported six cases which had mostly been attributed to family members working in Pensacola and carrying the flu back home. Similar cases were reported in Brewton and Atmore. Families suffering from the disease were encouraged to wrap a black ribbon around their porch posts to warn the passer-by of the danger.

By Oct. 7, the governor’s office had ordered all public places closed until further notice. The flu condition was taking a toll on the economy and local services by this time. Stores were closed either by choice or because employees were too sick to work. Telephone companies had to limit their switchboard operators to only emergency calls because so many operators were sick there was no one to man the switch boards. Meanwhile, circuit judges around the state were forced to suspend their court calendars to control transmission of the disease.

By Oct. 15, 1918, Alabama authorities noted that 25,811 cases of Spanish Flu had been reported. State officials were overwhelmed in treating the pandemic and it is likely that these numbers were under-reported. In some parts of the state, coffins were in short supply, and the dead had to be stored in freezers until coffins could be shipped in.

As the disease progressed between late 1918 and early 1919, people begin to develop immunity to this strain of the flu and eventually the infection rates began to decline. Yet it was not until the summer of 1919 that the pandemic ended.