If you attend genealogical conferences, you will often hear presenters urge their audiences to study social history to learn about the life and times of their ancestors and collateral relatives.
As we enter the 2017 “flu season” we are being deluged by television ads for quick and easy ways to get our flu shots.
Smithsonian, the monthly magazine of the Smithsonian Institution, features on the cover of its November issue the following headline: 1918-2018, The Next Pandemic. Inside the devastating influenza outbreak 100 years ago–and how scientists are trying to stop it from happening again.
The lead article in a package of three on the 1918 pandemic is “Journal of the Plague Year. 1918 Outbreak,” by John M. Berry. According to Wikipedia, His 2004 book The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Greatest Plague in History was a New York Times Best Seller, and won the 2005 Keck Communication Award from the United States National Academies of Science for the year’s outstanding book on science or medicine.
In that book, Berry posits that the 1918 pandemic began in Haskell County, Kansas, and quickly spread to Camp Funston, a U.S. Army training base in central Kansas. From there, it spread to other Army bases to the extent that 24 out of 36 bases at the time has serious–and deadly–outbreaks of influenza.
Some statistics from the article: Number of infected in the U.S.: 25.8 million; number of deaths: 670,000; percent of flu deaths age 6 or under: 20; life expectancy decrease: 12 years; and (shockingly to me) percent of U.S. military deaths in WWI caused by flu: 50.
Barry’s 10-page article gives a lot more detail about why the pandemic spread as it did among military personnel and the civilian population.
Two more articles are included in the “flu package”: “Animal Vector, The Birth of a Killer” and “The New Counterattack: How to Stop a Lethal Virus.”
If you read all three articles, you will have a good dose of social history, both for 1918 and going into 2018.
I have studied and blogged about the WWI history of two relatives; one being fortunate enough to escape any illness from flu while the other succumbed. Frank Morley Green came through his Army training unscathed but Albert C. “Bert” Butcher did not. You can click on the links to read those posts. I also blogged about the Flu Pandemic in an even earlier post.
One final point: Yes, I have had my 2017 flu shot. I have have been diligent in getting them each year for the last half dozen or so, and they have helped me stave off any flu illness.