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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Influenza Epidemic of 1918

"The Influenza epidemic which had been sweeping over the United States, reached Mt. Pleasant in 1918, causing many deaths and much sorrow. Public gatherings were prohibited. Citizens were advised to wear muslin masks in an endeavor to prevent the spread of the dread disease."

History of Mt. Pleasant by Hilda Madsen Longsorf p201


"Of course in the beginning years, the scholastic offerings were restricted to the lower grades. The first high school class was graduated in 1887 and consisted of two members. There were no further graduates until 1895, when one student was graduated. Classes have been graduated each succeeding year, with the exception of 1900 and 1919. It was in this latter year that the local influenza epidemic made it impossible to continue after the first few weeks in the fall."
 HOM p 263


True or False? The Influenza Epidemic of 1918 killed more people than died in World War One.

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Hard as it is to believe, the answer is true.
World War I claimed an estimated 16 million lives. The influenza epidemic that swept the world in 1918 killed an estimated 50 million people. One fifth of the world's population was attacked by this deadly virus. Within months, it had killed more people than any other illness in recorded history.
The plague emerged in two phases. In late spring of 1918, the first phase, known as the "three-day fever," appeared without warning. Few deaths were reported. Victims recovered after a few days. When the disease surfaced again that fall, it was far more severe. Scientists, doctors, and health officials could not identify this disease which was striking so fast and so viciously, eluding treatment and defying control. Some victims died within hours of their first symptoms. Others succumbed after a few days; their lungs filled with fluid and they suffocated to death.
The plague did not discriminate. It was rampant in urban and rural areas, from the densely populated East coast to the remotest parts of Alaska. Young adults, usually unaffected by these types of infectious diseases, were among the hardest hit groups along with the elderly and young children. The flu afflicted over 25 percent of the U.S. population. In one year, the average life expectancy in the United States dropped by 12 years.
It is an oddity of history that the influenza epidemic of 1918 has been overlooked in the teaching of American history. Documentation of the disease is ample, as shown in the records selected from the holdings of the National Archives regional archives. Exhibiting these documents helps the epidemic take its rightful place as a major disaster in world history.

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