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SARS Scare Echoes Flu Pandemic of 1918

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By Will Bagley
Special to The Tribune

    The malady struck quickly with a high fever, sore throat, difficulty breathing and coughing. The afflicted felt like they "had been beaten all over with a club." Unlike most contagious diseases, it did not prey on the old and frail but hit people in the prime of life, often young adults between 15 and 35. It spread with astonishing speed, and its victims were sometimes dead within hours of showing the first symptoms.
    According to the World Health Organization, the similar severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus had resulted in 391 reported deaths worldwide by May 1. The intense international reaction is due in part to a grim specter that haunts health officials -- the flu pandemic of 1918.
    Some claim this health disaster was the most devastating epidemic in human history, killing more people in a single year than the Black Death laid low from 1347 to 1351.
    Before it ran its course in 1920, "the Spanish Lady," better known as the Spanish flu, had killed more people than all the battles of World War I. Despite its name and theories it began in Tibet or China, the disease first appeared in March 1918 when an army cook came down with influenza at Fort Riley, Kansas. The camp hospital had 100 new residents by noon, and within a week 500 sick soldiers had the mysterious illness.
    What was then called the "grippe" was terrifying. Victims might gasp for several hours before "they became delirious and incontinent, and many died struggling to clear their airways of a blood-tinged froth," wrote a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania. "It was a dreadful business."
    By April 1918, 200,000 American soldiers were on their way to the battlefields of France, carrying the contagion with them. Thirty-six members of the 15th U.S. Cavalry fell ill while crossing the Atlantic and six died. Wartime conditions helped spread the disease and within weeks the disease had appeared across Europe.
    As typical of such strains of swine flu, the infection increased in virulence with the arrival of autumn. Men afflicted with "what appears to be an attack of la grippe or influenza," wrote an army surgeon in late September, "very rapidly develop the most viscous type of pneumonia that has ever been seen." By October, the pandemic had reached the most remote corners of the globe.
    Louisa Wetherill, wife of an Indian trader at Kayenta, was collecting sheep on the Navajo reservation in southern Utah and northern Arizona to support the war effort. She developed a fever, and when she returned home her trading post was surrounded by flu victims. Following tradition, the Navajos burned the homes of those who died, and "soon all over the reservation, smoke was rising from the hogans of the dead."
    The epidemic arrived in Salt Lake City on Oct. 3 and infected more than 2,300 victims, killing 117 of them by month's end. On Oct. 15, city officials reported 161 new cases and six deaths, and new outbreaks hit 65 Utah communities. Over 23 days, flu struck 2,628 people in Ogden as the pandemic killed 200,000 Americans in October alone.
    Business came to a standstill. Funeral services were limited to 30 minutes and then to 15. Cities imposed quarantines and passed laws requiring everyone to wear gauze masks. People moved into tents, believing fresh air was more healthful. State health official T. B. Beatty banned all public meetings, closed churches and theaters and recommended closing the schools, which would not reopen until after New Year's.
    Joseph F. Smith, the fifth president of the LDS Church, fell ill Nov. 17 and died two days later. His death was attributed to "pleuro-pneumonia," but he succumbed to a flulike illness. "No public funeral could be held," his biographer wrote, "as the city and state were under quarantine," but thousands lined the streets anyway to bid their beloved prophet farewell.
    The infection quickly spread throughout Utah. A young couple and the sister who had come to nurse them in Marysvale died within 72 hours, while a baby in Circleville lost his parents and two sets of foster parents (this unlucky orphan became Piute County's first battlefield casualty in World War II). Remote Escalante had 200 cases. Only Panguitch seemed to have escaped the epidemic entirely, at least until Dec. 19 when a returning soldier came down with the flu after attending a welcome-home party that helped infect 1,200 of the town's 1,800 residents.
    The disease cut a wide swath through Utah County, where nearly two-thirds of the citizens of Springville fell ill. The Lehi Sun shut down for two weeks in October. Mayors warned residents that Thanksgiving gatherings were "strictly contrary to law." In December, officials declared a quarantine "to stop the continued exposure of Utah County people from Salt Lake" and arrested people who refused to wear masks, although their effectiveness was questionable at best.
    The virus was especially devastating for American Indians, who fell victim to the disease at four times the rate of residents of large cities. An estimated 2,000 Navajos died in Utah and Arizona. As Navajos congregated to gather pine nuts, historian Robert S. McPherson reports, "whole families died by their wagons, vainly seeking shelter from the storms and relief from the flu."
    According to the Office of Indian Affairs, by year's end 62 Utes had died on the Uintah Reservation and 20 Uncompahgre Utes died at Ouray. During the six months starting in October, 28,634 of the 70,638 Indians in the Four Corners area came down with the disease -- a morbidity rate of 40 percent -- and 3,293 of them died.
    An armistice ended the First World War on Nov. 11 and the resulting celebration ruined whatever effectiveness quarantines might have had when Salt Lake City went mad. "Happy chaos" reigned, and the revelry combined the wildest New Year's Eve "when John Barleycorn wielded the scepter, with the biggest Labor Day and Fourth of July manifestations and the greatest of all festivals and carnivals ever witnessed in Salt Lake all rolled into one."
    "The outcome was predictable," wrote historian Leonard Arrington. "There was another outbreak of 'influenzy.' "
    One night in late November, a Salt Lake Tribune writer walked the eight blocks from the Hotel Utah and back and saw one human being -- a night watchman -- and two black cats. Children were found alone in downtown tenements with both parents dead of the disease.
    Ever since the calamity, health officials have struggled to control influenza. The development of vaccines helped contain the 1957 "Asian flu" pandemic that infected one human in six and killed an estimated 2 million people worldwide. In 1997 Hong Kong quickly contained an avian flu spread from chickens to people by slaughtering all the city's poultry.
    Between 1918 and 1920, the Utah State Health Department reported that flu infected 91,799 victims and killed 2,915 of them, but the health commissioner believed there had been at least 130,000 cases and even more deaths. In America, it infected about 20 million and resulted in between a half and three-quarters of a million deaths.
    Before it ran its course in 1920, this virulent virus had claimed between 20 million and 40 million victims worldwide. Today, a similar pandemic could kill 180 million people.
    Pat Bagley and historian Ardis Parshall contributed to this story.

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--- Quote from: lovenrock243 ---the she.. well its a he... lmao
--- End quote ---

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