Originally Published: January 31, 2004 7 a.m.
I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza,
I opened the window,
–1918 Child Jump
It was the fall of 1918 and a new fashion statement was spreading throughout our state by order of the public health officers. Gauze masks were covering the nose and mouth of all. This order was not just to protect the public from seasonal allergies, but rather from the devastating influenza virus that was consuming the world. Overshadowed by the events of World War I, many of our current generations have never heard about the 1918 influenza outbreak that was one of the quickest and most deadly events in modern history. There have been other "flu" outbreaks– Hong Kong, Asian, and others– yet none was as traumatic as 1918.
Influenza, also known as the Spanish flu, was a zoonotic disease that affected birds and mammals prior to jumping species to humans. The disease was spread through coughing and even breathing. The illness spread and developed at a horrifying rate. Many would become ill in the morning and be dead by nightfall. The early symptoms were similar to those of a bad cold; therefore many did not know they had the flu until it was too late. The illness quickly turned into pneumonia of a severe type, with patients literally drowning from the fluid accumulation in their lungs. The 1918-19 influenza pandemic hit the world, killing more people overall than both world wars together.