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The 1918 1919 Influenza Epidemic Essay

3520 words - 14 pages

“I made money rapidly,” Charles Sligh explained, “The demands for flowers frequently were so great that all the florists in this community exhausted their supply daily, and the prices of everything were very high then.”1 Along with florists, funeral directors, and orderlies were also making a killing during World War One. “The undertaker which was half a block away from me had pine boxes on the sidewalk, pilled high. Me and two of my friends would go down there and play on those boxes; it was like playing on the pyramids.”2 Although business was booming for these professions, it was not because of the war. It was the result of an unexpected killer that swept across the world claiming victims at an unprecedented rate.

The 1918-1919 influenza pandemic stretched its lethal tentacles all over the globe, even to the most remote areas of the planet, killing fifty million people or possibly even more. Influenza killed more people in a year than the Black Death of the Middle Ages killed in a century, and it killed more people in twenty-four weeks than AIDS has killed in twenty-four years.3 Influenza normally kills the elderly and infants, but this deadly and abnormal strand claimed young people, those in their twenties or thirties as its target victims. Such was the case for Jules Bergeret. Jules was a “big, strapping man” who owned a tavern during the epidemic, and on December 11 he celebrated his 32 birthday. Within two weeks Jules, his mother, his sister, and his 25 year old wife all fell victim to the flu, and on December 22 he was dead.4 The virus left victims bleeding out of their nose ears and mouth; some coughing so hard that autopsies would later show that abdominal muscles and rib cartilage had been torn. Victims also complained of extreme headaches and body aches that were so intense one man described it “as if his bones were breaking.” Fevers would spike to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and in the case of Katherine Anne Porter her fever was so high that her hair turned white and fell out.5 In the final stage of the virus, victim’s skin had begun to turn strange colors. Some only experienced slight blue discoloration around the mouth and fingers, but a select few looked so dark one could not tell if they were white or black.6
The origin of this deadly pandemic is thought to be in Haskell County, Kansas which lies west of Dodge City. It was a small cattle town where the inhabitants lived simultaneously with their pigs, cattle, and poultry. By late January or early February of 1918 a violent and intense form of the flu swept through the county killing some of the healthiest and most robust members of the community. By mid-March the disease seemed to disappear. Because people suffering from influenza expel the virus, they are only contagious for around seven days or less.7 Therefore, such a sparsely populated and isolated area such as Haskell County should have been able to contain the disease. But there was one...

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