The Great Influenza / Flu - SRH group read
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The Great influenza by John M. Barry
Flu by Gina Kolata
Die Spanische Grippe by Manfred Vasold
Science, Religion, & History planning thread.
Science, Religion, & History 2014 book list
One interesting aspect of both the Barry and the Kolata was that there seems to be as many social science problems as there are science problems with epidemic control.
A weekly magazine (Dec 1917) recommends Sparrow soup as a special treat for Christmas - take one sparrow and 1/4 l water per person ...
Hygeine was bad, too, with soap also rationed - 50g of poor quality a month. Not only flu, but several other diseases were killing people.
His final conclusion is that the flu may have speeded up the end of the war. The war may have speeded up the flu's transmission around the world, or possibly slowed it down. The US had a higher rate of deaths than Europe: it started there and the US had the Native Americans, who like other similar groups around the world had more deaths. Indeed in some groups over 20% of the population died. The high numbers of young people who died certainly made a difference in Europe between the wars. And it's high time more research was done on all of this in German-speaking Academia.
I am just overwhelmed by the figures from around the world. I don't know how you even begin to imagine,'The steamer came to Samoa. The flu took off and it is estimated that 90% of the natives fell sick.' 'In Nome 176 of 300 Inuit died.' 'In Aukland, New Zealand, hospital a special ward was set up for flu patients. It was soon full with nurses as of the 180 nurses in the hospital, 140 fell sick with the flu.' ...
Again and again he discusses the lack of doctors, but as he also mentions the highly questionable treatments, the lack of doctors may not have been such a bad thing in this case.
The book is well written, I'm just overwhelmed, though at how much misery and disaster can be fit into a book of only 140 pages.
In the US, the war definitely made it worse, since it happened during the drafting of the soldiers to go to Europe. Many, many men were in training camps where the virus was easily spread and quarantine was really impossible. (Not that good quarantine was being observed elsewhere. There is a particularly frightening discussion of the failed attempts to quarantine Philadelphia in the Barry book.
Doctors or no, there really wasn't a lot that they could do for a viral infection--except immunization and they really weren't able to isolate the virus. Kolata talks about several early attempts to do that.
Frankly we don't have that much more we can do now. We can isolate viruses and produce vaccines faster, but it's still slow. We can probably keep people alive with respirators for longer allowing them to get better on their own (which is actually the plan here in the US for a first wave pandemic flu). Of course we don't have enough respirators or beds, though there are plans for maximizing those resources as much as possible (at least in New York State where we actually spend money on plans for these things. Don't know what it's like in the Libertarian red states.) And Americans in general suck at quarantine procedures (during the bird flu epidemic, I saw US border guards at the US/Canada border make people throw out chicken sandwiches instead of asking people about their health).
It certainly was frightening to read about how bad things can get.
I'd been more or less aware of the state of medicine, but not that Johns Hopkins University was at the cutting edge of radical improvements.
The section about the flu virus reminded me of a Scientific American article from a few years ago with helpful graphics. It's in the January 2011 issue, which annoyingly is not fully accessible without a subscription, but two graphics are here and here.
Re 'Spanish' flu: This said that as a neutral country, the Spanish media were honest about the figures. Everyone else denied the problem because of military censorship.
#19 This point about the "Spanish flu" and the openness of the Spanish media was also made in the book. The author had little good to say about the way the newspapers handled news of the epidemic in general - especially in the United States.
I find it interesting that it is the beginning of certain diseases being reportable by law to a government agency. That's clearly key to being on top of future epidemics.
I'm also finding the history of reconstructing the RNA of the 1918 influenza virus quite interesting. It's a great detective story, and highlights some of the problems with modern science: the political realities of publishing in the big journals, and the competition between groups to publish. I'm not finding anything too out of line with the science, although I haven't read the last few chapters yet.
Several of the researchers say their imaginations were caught by a book called America's Forgotten Pandemic. Has anyone read that one? I may have to hunt down a copy.