xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Ghosts of pandemics past: ‘Let us all help to check the (1918) influenza’ | COMMENTARY

On Oct. 5, 1918, roughly 10 days after Spanish flu cases began appearing in Maryland, The Baltimore Sun’s editorial board published an editorial warning against hysteria and floating the idea that the disease might be a German conspiracy (this was toward the end of World War I). Then, like now, the moral is the same: “Eternal medical as well as personal vigilance is the price of safety.”

Whether the disease called “Spanish influenza” is simply our old enemy the grip [another word for the typical flu], as physicians seemed to think in the beginning, or whether it differs in important respects, its menace will be increased by excitement and hysteria. Not that it is a thing caused by a nervous imagination, but because those who give way to the fever of nervousness are helping to break down their own physical defenses and to put themselves in a condition favorable for attack. The best protection against this or any other disease is to keep yourself in the highest possible physical state of defense, and then, even if you are attacked, your resisting power will be all the greater and your chances of speedy recovery all the brighter. Excesses of any kind, unsanitary habits, worry, undue fatigue — all these are allies of every prowling ill to which flesh is heir. Therefore, the first thing to do now is to put and keep your body in a first-class state of defense and to cut out all the influences that may weaken it.

Advertisement

Apparently this influenza is more readily and viciously communicable than any with which we have had to deal in the past. For that reason doctors and nurses in many hospitals are wearing masks, and for the same reason people generally should endeavor not only to protect themselves, but to avoid spreading the trouble. It is not practical for everybody to wear a mask, but everybody, whether at home or abroad, can, as Dr. Hopkins suggests in yesterday’s Sun, use a handkerchief to catch his or her own sneezes and coughs. To use a country phrase about cattle running at large, every man and woman should “fence against” their grip getting out of their own systems into those of other persons.

This much the general public can do for its own protection and for the sake of the country. On the other hand, our medical and public universities, State and Federal, should put into force at once every preventive measure possible in order to check this epidemic without delay. It should be taken seriously as a scientific proposition and given special and comprehensive study. If it is absolutely clear that it is only a more intense and more communicable form of grip, that should be stated authoritatively, so as to quiet the nervousness of excitable persons. It may be that its ravages are no worse here than in Europe. Or it may be that for some reason its effects are more serious. At all events, they are clearly serious enough to demand extraordinary medical activity and intelligence in combating them and to make it imperative that nothing shall be taken for granted.

Advertisement

Naturally enough, many persons are ready to suspect this as another species of Hun [German] propaganda. The talk of influenza masks in hospitals suggests the masks that are used in the trenches, and an analogy springs into the mind between poison gas and poison grip. We put nothing beyond Hun indignity and devilish ingenuity. If their scientists could have collected grip germs and charged them in their laboratories with special satanic efficiency, they would not have hesitated to do so and to scatter them broadcast in this country. They cannot hold back our men in France, they cannot interrupt their transportation to Europe, and it is conceivable that their only hope may be to paralyze us at home by a plague. This idea is a wild one and is rendered highly improbable by the fact that the Germans themselves are said to have suffered terribly from a similar epidemic both among soldiers and civilians. Indeed, the weakness of their defense against the early counter-attacks of [French] General [Ferdinand] Foch has been attributed to the depletion of their ranks by this disease. However, it does not seem to have weakened General Foch to any material extent.

Six or eight weeks ago a vessel arrived at New York on which several cases of influenza were reported, but, according to the New York papers, the medical authorities of that city refused to quarantine them or consider them seriously. The moral deducible from the present situation is that eternal medical as well as personal vigilance is the price of safety now, and that we can take no chances in dealing with foes to health any more than with the armed enemies of the country.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement