With the possibility of a 2020 virus pandemic, it is time for North Dakotans to be reminded of the devastation that occurred in the country and the state when influenza raged in 1918. It gives us a serious lesson so that we don’t take the threat too casually and expect to continue life as usual.
Some people believe in the invincibility of the United States, doubting that anything could shatter our safety and security. If there’s a war, we will win it. If there’s a pandemic, we will cure it. If the earth warms, we will cool it. If the disaster is beyond our abilities, God will save His favorite nation.
History teaches us that empires have collapsed while in glory years comparable to the United States today. We need to have only one generation make a stupid mistake to destroy the United States. The threat is not only pandemics but, as in the case of the Roman Empire, the loss of “civic virtue”, i.e. a soft citizenship that lost it’s civil vigilance.
1918 Victims Unknown
Close to our day is the worldwide epidemic of Spanish flu in 1918 that killed an unknown number of victims, estimated from 17 to 100 million. That range tells us that nobody knows.
More of our troops mobilized to fight World War I died of influenza than died in the fighting. While the current virus attacks the old and the young, the 1918 influenza hit the 20-40 age groups the hardest.
Where the flu started is still another guessing game. It did not start in Spain although the flu came to be known as a Spanish Flu. Some thought China; some guessed Austria.
Started in Kansas?
U. S. Historian Alfred Crosby argued that it came from Kansas and John Barry, another historian, nailed it down to Haskell County. Others thought Fort Riley. Scientists today are still guessing.
Barry pointed out that pregnant women were the most vulnerable, something worth considering until science defines vulnerable groups in the current near-pandemic.
According to Expedia, 13 studies of hospitalized women indicated that the death rate of those with the flu was from 23 per cent to 71 per cent. Of the women who survived childbirth, 25 per cent lost their babies.
Thousands Die in ND
North Dakota did not escape the 1918 pandemic. Not only did our soldiers die in the trenches along with those from other countries, according to an article by Dr. Steve McDonough in a 2017 Bismarck Tribune, North Dakota reported 1,378 deaths from the flu. Dr. McDonough said that 1,378 was a gross undercount and it is more likely that 3,000 to 5,000 succumbed.
North Dakota was handicapped in fighting the flu because a significant number of doctors and nurses were in Europe caring for American troops,
Shortage of Health Providers
“That meant that there weren’t enough health care providers to care for the sick,” Dr. McDonough noted.
The flue was merciless. Florence Kimball, a 1913 graduate of Lisbon High School, was serving as a registered nurse with U. S. troops in Europe and died of the flu at age 24. The Lisbon American Legion Post was named in her honor.
The Student Army Training Corps had mustered 423 young men in Grand Forks, two-thirds of whom contracted the flu and 29 perished.
Pandemics are grim. Until the scientific community comes up with a vaccine, we won’t know what we are dealing with. ”Caution” is the watchword.