Thursday, June 18, 2009


As the concerns of the 2009 Swine Flu outbreak increase, the inevitable comparisons are being made to the 1918 - 1919 outbreak which killed an estimated 50 - 100 million people. Let's hope it is not a repeat. Let's hope by the time this date is published, my grand daughter, who contracted the Swine Flu at a picnic, is well. At the time of this writing 18 out of 22 children in her class are home sick. J. will receive loving care from her mother. Let's hope my daughter remains well.

In the year of my daughters first grade school year, a different Swine Flu hit our home town. The family all slept on the floor in the living room because it was energy conserving. Although the adults got the shots and hoped for immunity, we were, as parents more concerned about our children. Ten days, daughter ran a fever. On the tenth day I brought her back to the doctor. Although she had a low grade fever, she was, according to the doctor, well enough to go back to the classroom.

There was only a skeleton class as the flu came and went through families. The children spent their days in review waiting for normalcy. As a mother, and many of you would bob your head in agreement, I got it last. Perhaps I should say I acknowledged it last. After the initial acute attack, the virus settled in my legs. Was it the vaccine or was it the flu? The doctor didn't know, he just praised me for keeping on the move, as others had been paralyzed by it. Makes me wonder if the episodes of back and leg pain experienced over the last many decades is the flu/vaccine raising its ugly head. Who is to know?

The Great Influenza is a fascinating account of the 1918-1919 outbreak. Focusing on the American experience, author John Barry offers an exhaustive, yet still readable story. It begins with a look at the state of American medicine at the end of the 19th century and into the early 20th and examines how professors at Johns Hopkins worked to “modernize” the system. Unfortunately, that modernization was still in progress when the epidemic hit. Beginning with a few deaths in military camps, then spreading to urban centers, the pandemic quickly overwhelmed the public health system of the time. In a single week in Philadelphia, more than 4,500 died, and bodies were left in the streets for lack of a system to dispose of them.


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