History

Lessons From the 1918 Spanish Flu Epidemic in Texas

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There are some powerful lessons we can learn from the historic 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that might help us fight a new unseen enemy, COVID-19.

According to reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC,) in the flu season of late 2017 through to early 2018, 80K Americans died. In addition, close to a million others were hospitalized as a result of this strain. This most recent outbreak was the worst in four decades. However, the one that gripped much of the world a little over 100 years ago will go down in history as the worst.

Lessons From the 1918 Spanish Flu Epidemic in Texas

Photo: envato elements

In 1918, the world underwent a Spanish Flu epidemic unlike anything it had every experienced previously. Close to 50 million people of all ages died as a result. Texas was not immune to it. When someone who is infected with the flu coughs or sneezes, and in some cases even talks, that virus can be transmitted through the air. Likewise, the virus can also be spread if someone who is sick touches items that are used by others. Such was the case in the fall of 1918 through early 1919.

Lessons From the 1918 Spanish Flu Epidemic in Texas

Photo: envato elements

The Spanish Flu didn’t care if you were rich or poor. Everyone, of all ages, was susceptible to it. Overall, close to 30 percent of Americans were afflicted, including then President Woodrow Wilson. In some urban centers, public gatherings became outlawed in an effort to halt the spread of the virus. At the time, casket makers were required to keep watch over their inventory due to the number of deaths and limited supplies. Some schools and places of amusement in Texas were closed, but in cases where kids attended class, spitting on the floor, “sneezing, or coughing, except behind a handkerchief,” would be grounds for suspension. Many of the Texas deaths that resulted from the Spanish Flu took place between September and October of 1918.

At that time, the ban on gatherings in parts of Texas such as Houston lasted just a few weeks. After that, things were said to have gone back to normal. Throughout the state, more than 2,100 would die from this outbreak. Throughout the U.S., that number was approximately 675,000. Those who were exposed to the illness either developed an immunity to it, or sadly passed away from it. It wouldn’t be until the 1940s and into the 1950s before a licensed flu vaccine would be marketed and was eventually distributed globally.