Middlebury

 

History of Pandemic Flu

Selected excerpts from: Barry, John M, The Great Influenza: The epic story of the deadliest plague in history, 2004. Viking Books: New York, New York, USA.

“In a normal influenza epidemic, 10 percent or fewer of the deaths fall among those aged between sixteen and forty. In 1918 that age group, the men and women with the most vitality, most to live for, most of a future, accounted for more than half the death toll, and within that group the worst mortality figures fell upon those aged twenty-one to thirty.”

“The only problem at Devens was that it was built to hold a maximum of thirty-six thousand men. On September 6, Devens held just over forty-five thousand men. Still, the camp hospital could accommodate twelve hundred and it was caring for only eight-four patients. With enough medical personnel to run several simultaneous research efforts, with a highly competent clinical staff, with a virtually empty hospital, Devens seemed ready for an emergency. It wasn’t. On September 7, a soldier from D Company 42nd Infantry was sent to the hospital. He ached to the extent that he screamed when he was touched, and he was delirious.”

“For this went beyond the ability of any individual or group of individuals to respond to. To have any chance in alleviating the devastation of the epidemic required organization, coordination, and implementation. It required leadership and it required that institutions follow that leadership.”

“For the plan to keep men quarantined in isolated groups had a flaw. They had to eat. They went to mess one group at a time, but they breathed the same air, their hands went from mouths to the same tables and doors that other soldiers had touched only minutes before. Despite the removal before the departure of men showing influenza symptoms, within forty-eight hours after leaving port, soldiers and sailors struck down with influenza overwhelmed the sick bay, stacked one on top of the other in bunks, clogging every possible location, coughing, bleeding, delirious, displacing the healthy from one great room after another. Nurses themselves became sick. Then the horrors began.”

“They made no attempt to quarantine cases. In the first few days no records of influenza cases were even kept because they “were looked upon as being examples of the epidemic disease which attacked so many of the camps during the spring.” In the overcrowded barracks and mess halls, the men mixed. A day went by. Two days. Then, suddenly, noted an army report, “Stated briefly, the influenza… occurred as an explosion.” It exploded indeed. In a single day, 1,543 Camp Devens soldiers reported ill with influenza. On September 22, 19.6 percent of the entire camps were on sick report, and almost 75 percent of those on sick report had been hospitalized. By then the pneumonias, and the deaths, had begun.”

“Care was almost nonexistent. The base hospital, designed for twelve hundred, could accommodate at most – even with crowding “beyond what is deemed permissible”, according to Welch – twenty-five hundred. It now held in excess of six thousand. All beds had long since been filled. Every corridor, every spare room, every porch was filled, crammed with the sight. And there were no nurses. When Welch arrived seventy out of two hundred nurses were already sick in bed themselves, with more falling ill each hour. Many of them would not recover. A stench filled the hospital as well. Bed linen and clothing were rank with urine and feces from men incapable of risking or cleaning themselves. Blood was everywhere, on linens, clothes, pouring out of some men’s nostrils and even ears while others coughed it up.”

“Vaughan reported, “In the morning the dead bodies are stacked about the morgue like cord wood.” As Cole recalled, “They were placed on the floor without any order or system, and we had to step amongst them to get into the room where an autopsy was going on.”

For this went beyond the ability of any individual or group of individuals to respond to. To have any chance in alleviating the devastation of the epidemic required organization, coordination, and implementation. It required leadership and it required that institutions follow that leadership.

“For the plan to keep men quarantined in isolated groups had a flaw. They had to eat. They went to mess one group at a time, but they breathed the same air, their hands went from mouths to the same tables and doors that other soldiers had touched only minutes before. Despite the removal before the departure of men showing influenza symptoms, within forty-eight hours after leaving port, soldiers and sailors struck down with influenza overwhelmed the sick bay, stacked one on top of the other in bunks, clogging every possible location, coughing, bleeding, delirious, displacing the healthy from one great room after another. Nurses themselves became sick. Then the horrors began.”

“Physicians, nurses, scientists – did their jobs, and the virus killed them, killed them in such numbers that each week JAMA was filled with literally page after page after page after page after page of nothing but brief obituaries in tiny compressed type. Hundreds of doctors dying.”

“It was as if the virus were a hunter. It was hunting mankind. It found man in the cities easily, but it was not satisfied. It followed him into towns, then villages, then individual homes. It searched for him in the most distant corners of the earth. It hunted him in the forests, tracked him into the jungles, pursued him onto the ice. And in those most distant corners of the earth, in those places where man was almost wholly innocent of civilization, man was not safer from the virus. He was more vulnerable.”