Why did they not teach us about the Spanish influenza when I was growing up in school? I don’t remember history teachers even mentioning it. The answer is on page 204 in this book:
“After the twin horrors of world war and the Spanish flu, many Americans longed for a return to normalcy – a word used by President Warren G. Harding in his successful 1920 campaign for the presidency. It may be one of the reasons that very few people wrote talked about the Spanish flu and that it largely disappeared from public memory – becoming a piece of hidden history.”
The Spanish influenza lasted a few years, then vanished as mysteriously as it had appeared. Everyone said, “Thank God it’s done!” and then did their best to forget how devastating it had been. No one wants to think about something that killed millions of people indiscriminately. It killed upwards of 50 million people worldwide (some estimates go as high as 100 million). But what if it suddenly re-appeared?
The descriptions of suffering and dying people were not pleasant to read, but the author did a very thorough job of researching the illness and recording the events in this book. It is impossible to convey the horror in a brief book review. Some takeaways from my reading of this book:
1 – Nurses did not get enough credit for being ministering angels to their patients. Many of them ended up dying themselves as they tried to provide compassionate care.
2 – Quarantine and cancelling large public events are key to spreading the virus when you are in a situation such as this.
3 – Vaccines hold the most hope for defeating viruses before they take hold of entire communities, since influenza cannot be treated with antibiotics. I do believe that some people have had serious reactions to vaccines, and have even developed lifelong conditions such as autism. But for society as a whole, vaccines hold the power to be able to spare us from mass annihilation from the enemy too small to see: the influenza virus.