It’s a flu shot or your tonsilsIf you have been one of those macho souls snubbing H1N1 flu shots, you may have a false sense of security because the flu has been quite limited, at least when compared to the flu that hit the country in 1918. That was the mother of all pandemics, killing 550,000 in the U.S. and 40 million worldwide.
By: Lloyd Omdahl, Columnist, The Jamestown Sun
If you have been one of those macho souls snubbing H1N1 flu shots, you may have a false sense of security because the flu has been quite limited, at least when compared to the flu that hit the country in 1918. That was the mother of all pandemics, killing 550,000 in the U.S. and 40 million worldwide.
Thus far, North Dakota has experienced only three deaths in the current contagion. While great, the exact number of 1918 deaths in North Dakota is still a matter of conjecture. The Census Bureau’s Mortality Statistics contains consistent data from only 30 states. Unfortunately, North Dakota is one of the missing states. For good reason: We didn’t have the figures.
The official estimate for North Dakota was 1,378 deaths. However, in a 2007 story, the Bismarck Tribune applied the national mortality rate to North Dakota and came up with 3,235. A 2009 publication of the State Health Department claims that 5,100 died. While the ultimate figure remains a question mark, everyone agrees that the 1,378 was a gross understatement.
The origin of the 1918 flu has also been a subject of speculation. Writing in my collection of American Heritage magazine, Joseph Persico reported in 1976 that some blamed the flu on Chinese workers who came to Europe to dig trenches for World War I; the Russians blamed the Spanish and the Spanish blamed Turkestan. Some Americans — including evangelist Billy Sunday — claimed that the contagion was a German plot to win the war.
Perisco reported that the best evidence pointed to Fort Riley, Kan., where a blizzard of dust whipped up hog manure fires. Two days after the storm, troops started coming down with the flu. Fort Riley units were soon dispatched to France to join the fight against the kaiser, after which the epidemic spread throughout Europe. As troops returned from the war, the theory goes, they brought the flu back.
While in Europe, American troops suffered heavy losses, with one in three solders with influenza dying. Ten times as many troops died in the first few weeks of the epidemic than were killed in 18 months of fighting.
It was Dr. J. S. Koen from the USDA Division of Hog Cholera Control who noted the similarities between the illness that struck hogs at the National Swine Breeders’ show in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and the influenza striking people in the area. In his report to Washington, he called it the “hog flu.”
According to Perisco, everybody had a cure. The Colgate Company put out 12 rules, among which were the following: chew food carefully, avoid tight clothes, tight shoes and tight gloves and get fresh air. Other cure-alls included inhaling chloroform fumes, removing tonsils, and even extracting teeth. Louisiana’s cure was Scotch whiskey, driving the price up to $20 a quart in New York.
Science has rescued us from these speculative cures. All we need to do today is get a shot. For those hold-outs, it would be a good move to get vaccinated for a couple of reasons.
First of all, the 1918 flu came in three waves, so something worse may still come. Secondly, the flu could mutate, become virulent and spread as a new flu for which we have no vaccine. Widespread vaccination would reduce the flu’s field of play.
Finally, contracting the H1N1 flu is no fun.
(Lloyd Omdahl, of Grand Forks, is a former lieutenant governor, state tax commissioner and state budget director)