April 2: The Flu Pandemic of 1918-1919

 

On this day in 1919, the medical paper “Complications of Influenza” was read to a desperately worried Hartford County Medical Society, who had been fighting a devastating global flu pandemic since the previous September.  This particular strain of flu was unlike any ever seen before, ultimately killing over 600,000 Americans and up to 100 million people across the globe.

Because of its bustling port cities and interstate migration, Connecticut was especially susceptible to an influx of people who carried the disease from overseas, and it spread at an alarming rate owing to the state’s higher-than-average population density. Unlike modern strains of the flu, the virus behind the global 1918 pandemic targeted healthy adults, not just children and the infirm. With no cure or vaccine available, the virus claimed the lives of over 8,500 Connecticut residents.

Thankfully — although the Hartford County Medical Society didn’t know it at the time — the global pandemic had peaked and was winding down by the time they gathered to discuss “Complications of Influenza” in April 1919.  The deadliest epidemic in Connecticut history was finally coming to a close.

 

Government-sponsored public health announcements, like this one published in the Connecticut newspaper Illustrated Current News in October 1918, urged residents to take extra steps to prevent the spread of influenza.

 

Further Reading:

Tasha Caswell, “Eighty-Five Hundred Souls: the 1918-1919 Flu Epidemic in Connecticut,” connecticuthistory.org https://connecticuthistory.org/eighty-five-hundred-souls-the-1918-1919-flu-epidemic-in-connecticut/

Ralph D. Ancari, “Ninety Days that Sickened Connecticut,” Connecticut Explored https://www.ctexplored.org/ninety-days-that-sickened-connecticut/

Hayley Gross, “1918: A War’s Ending, A Pandemic’s Beginning,” Museum of the City http://www.museumofthecity.org/project/1918-a-wars-ending-a-pandemics-beginning/

“Influenza 1918,” PBS Feature Documentary, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/influenza/