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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”


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Illinois and the 1918 Spanish Flu Epidemic

Typed and Donated by ©Susan Cook

Headlines during the fall of 1918 consist of news regarding WW I. The nation was very patriotic, and many of the pages of newspapers reflect this.  Citizens banding together to come to the aid of the country, the men and the families of the United States of America. As you browse through each page, you find the sad stories of mothers and wives losing their loved ones to the ravages of war. As the months progress, you also follow the story of the Spanish flu, making it's way from the back pages of the newspapers to take it's place alongside the war, on the front page and in the annals of history.

The Spanish flu, also known as the "Spanish Lady," is said to have originated in the United States at Fort Riley KS, the first of 107 cases being reported on 11 March, 1918. The original source is said to have been in Europe, most likely in Spain. As servicemen were shipped overseas to Europe, they came in contact with the bug. When they began to return home, the epidemic hit the East coast ports like wildfire.  In a short time, the flu made it's way to 46 states, killing more than 500,000 people by December 1918, and leaving 20 million seriously ill citizens to fight the disease.

Illinois was directly in it's path.  At Camp Grant, in Rockford, Illinois, 115 soldiers died in a 24 hour period.  The production of coffins could not keep up with the number of deaths occurring each day, in each city.  Social clubs cancelled meetings until further notice; town meetings and even political campaigns were put on hold.  City streets were hosed down each day.  People venturing out into the cities were required to wear a protective mask.  Mass panic and mass destruction of this nation's citizens was occurring throughout most states in the union.

Chicago, 16 October, 1918
As reported in the East St. Louis Journal

ity and State Health authorities were to meet here today to give their final decision on the question of closing of churches, saloons, cabarets, schools, pool rooms and ice cream parlors as a result of influenza.

An order closing theaters and movie picture houses went into effect yesterday through-out Illinois.

During the last 24 hours, there were 317 deaths in Chicago alone, due to the epidemic.  There were 2,221 new cases reported in the city.  According to reports compiled by Dr. C. St. Clair Drake, State Health Commissioner, the disease has affected 300,000 persons in the State of Illinois.

...the flu was officially declared an epidemic in Illinois in October of 1918.

This particular article reappears quite often in the East St. Louis Journal during the fall of 1918:


Go to bed and stay quiet, take a laxative, eat plenty of nourishing food, keep up your strength, nature is the "cure."


No Occasion for panic

Spanish Influenza, which appeared in Spain in May, has all the appearances of grip or la grippe, which has swept over the world in numerous epidemics far back as history runs.  Hippocrates refers to an epidemic in 412 BC, which is regarded by many to have been influenza.  Every century has had its attacks. Beginning with 1831, this country has had five epidemics, the last in 1889-90.

The Symptoms

Grippe, or influenza, as it is now called, usually begins with a chill followed by aching, feverishness and sometimes nausea and dizziness, and a general feeling of weakness and depression.  The temperature is from 100 to 104, and the fever usually lasts from three to five days.  The germs attack the mucous membrane, or lining of the air passages:  nose, throat and bronchial tubes, there is usually a hard cough, especially bad at night, oftentimes a sore throat or tonsillitis and frequently all the appearances of a severe head cold.

The Treatment

Go to bed at the first symptoms, not only for your own sake, but to avoid spreading the disease to others; take a purgative, eat plenty of nourishing food, remain perfectly quiet and don't worry. Quinine, aspirin or Dover's Powder, etc., may be administered by the physician's directions to relieve the aching.  But there is no cure for influenza, the disease must run its course, but nature will throw off the attack if only you keep up your strength.  The chief danger lies in the complications which may arise.  Influenza so weakens the bodily resistance that there is danger of pneumonia or bronchitis developing, and sometimes inflammation of the middle ear (*note, my great grandmother lost her hearing due to the flu during this time), or heart affections.  for these reasons, it is very important that the patient remain in bed until his strength returns, stay in bed at least two days or more after the fever has left you, or if you are over 50 or not strong, stay in bed four days or more, according to the severity of the attack.

External Applications

In order to stimulate the lining of the air passages to throw off the grip germs, to aid in loosening the phlegm and keeping the air passages open, thus making the breathing easier, Vick's VapoRub will be found effective (*my family still uses Vicks to this day!). Hot, wet towels should be applied over the throat, chest and back between the shoulder blades to open the pores. Then VapoRub should be rubbed in over the parts until the skin is red, spread on thickly and covered with two thicknesses of hot flannel cloths. Leave the clothing loose around the neck as the heat of the body liberates the ingredients in the form of vapors.  These vapors, inhaled with each breath, carry the medication directly to the parts affected. At the same time, VapoRub is absorbed thru and stimulates the skin, attracting the blood to the surface, and thus aids in relieving the congestion within.

How to avoid the disease

Evidence seems to prove that this is a germ disease, spread principally by human contact, chiefly thru coughing, sneezing or spitting (folks were fined in some cities for spitting in public).  So avoid persons having colds, which means avoiding crowds, common drinking cups, roller towels, etc.  Keep up your bodily strength by plenty of exercise in the open air, and good food. Above all, keep free from colds, as colds irritate the lining of the air passages and render them much better breeding places for the germs.

Use Vick's VapoRub at the very first sign of a cold.  For a head cold, melt a little VapoRub in a spoon and inhale the vapors, or better still, use VapoRub in a benzoin steam kettle.   If this is not available, use an ordinary tea-kettle.  Fill half-full of boiling water, put in half a teaspoon of VapoRub from time to time, keep the kettle just slowly boiling and inhale the steam arising.

NOTE:  Vick's VapoRub is the discovery of a North Carolina druggist, who found how to combine, in salve form Menthol and Campher with such volatile oils as Eucalyptus, Thyme, etc., so that when the salve is applied to the body heat, the ingredients are liberated in the form of vapors.


OCTOBER 17, 1918

Local News Items

Donated by Nancy Piper

Yesterday's daily papers say that there are 300,000 cases of flu in Illinois. The closing of schools, churches, fraternal societies, places of amusement and all other places for public gatherings is general throughout the state.


(Special to Henry Republican)

Chicago, Oct. 15 -- The results of a state wide survey by telegraph of every Illinois community of 1,000 population or over, given out here tonight by Dr. C. St. Clari Drake, director of the state department of public health, show that 227 cities and towns in Illinois have been hit by the epidemic of Spanish influenza. The number of cases reported in these communities in 55,725 of which 17,943 are in Chicago, and 37,782 down state. There have been 2,264 deaths from influenza and pneumonia in Chicago and 491 in the down state communities which have been reported.

Convinced that the epidemic had reached proportions which required prompt and vigorous measures, teh state department of health has ordered that all theaters, including moving picture shows, all night schools, all lodges and all places of public amusement, closed until the epidemic subsides. All public schools which are lacking in adequate medical and nursing supervision were included in the order.

"From the information we now have", said Dr. Drake, "we believe that every community in Illinois will be affected by influenza before the epidemic subsides. On the basis of the reports which reached us today, we estimate that there are now more than 170,000 cases in the state outside of Chicago.

An analysis of the influenza situation in Chicago today shows that the epidemic has not reached its crest here. Fore the week ending September 28, there were 598 cases reported in Chicago with 176 deaths. During the week ending October 7 there were 6,106 cases reported with 627 deaths. The week which ended October 14 produced 11,239 cases and 1,461 deaths. The total number of deaths from influenza and pneumonia in Chicago during the past three weeks was 2,264 compared with an average of 156 for the same period during the past five years.

Although the situation is bad in many down state communities, it will get worse before it gets better, according to members of the state influenza commission, which meets daily. The town of Assumption in Christian county, with a population of 1,918 has reported 500 cases and has called for help. There are only four doctors and one registered nurse in the town.

Greenup, with a population of 1,224, reported 400 cases. Two doctors live in Greenup and both are ill with influenza. Peoria reports 10,000 cases and Rockford 6,000. In Peoria two emergency hospitals have been equipped, and in Rockford, medical help has been loaned from Camp Grant, where the epidemic is rapidly being brought under control.

More than 1,200 cases have been reported in Kankakee. Cairo reports500. Marengo, with a population of 1,872, reported 496 and has asked for the help of outside doctors and nurses. Nokomis, which has a population of 1,973 has reported over 600 cases with no hospital facilities available. Bloomington reports 1,200 cases with 11 deaths.

The state health department urges extreme care in order to prevent, so far as possible, the needless further spread of the contagion. All persons are warned to keep away from crowds, to avoid the person who sneezes, coughs and spits without covering the face with a cloth, and to consult a physician immediately upon the first symptoms of what may seem to be an ordinary cold.

As the disease took it's toll, national officials began to worry that tuberculosis would strike the afflicted next:

The DuQuoin Tribune, 1918

U. S. Health Service Issues Warning
"Increases in all Respiratory Diseases after the Influenza Epidemic Probable. Spain and England report increase in Tuberculosis after Influenza Epidemic."

Washington, D. C.-(special)-
According to a report made to the United States public Health Service, the epidemic of influenza in spain has already caused an increase in the prevalence and deaths from pulmonary tuberculosis.  A similar association between influenza and tuberculosis was recently made by sir Arthur Newsholme, the chief medical officer of the English public health service, in his analysis of the tuberculosis death rate in England.

In order that the people of the United States may profit by the experience of other countries Surgeon General Rupert BLUE of the United States Public Health Service has just issued a warning emphasizing the need of special precautions at the present time. "Experience seems to indicate," says the Surgeon General, "that persons whose resistance has been weakened by an attack of influenza are peculiarly susceptible to tuberculosis.  With millions of its people recently affected with influenza this country now offers conditions favoring the spread of tuberculosis."


As with anything else, there are those who choose to turn the profit at another's expense.  Taking advantage of the misery of others were fly by night "snake oil salesmen" who offered the "cure" in a bottle.  The Surgeon General can be found warning citizens against unscrupulous patent medicine fakers:  "Above all do not trust in the misleading statements of unscrupulous patent medicine fakers. there is no specific medicine for the cure of tuberculosis. the money spent on such medicines is thrown away; it should be spent instead for good food and decent living."  In other articles, citizens were warned about these medicine fakers when it came to the "cure for the flu" as well.  The Government did receive numerous "home remedy" suggestions, such as:

"Take two or three large, ripe but fresh red peppers of the hot variety, chop fine, put them in an open stew pan with plenty of water to cook them.  Set on the stove and boil nicely for an hour or more, or two hours would be better, keeping enough water to prevent their burning or getting dry.  Have outside windows and doors closed, or mostly so, the object being to permit the vapor to permeate all the air of the living apartments that the patient may inhale this impregnated air as strongly as he can take of it for the time stated above.  This will cause a looseness of the cold and a coughing and sneezing.  Either it kills the germs of the disease or causes the system to throw it off.  In some cases a second treatment might be needed."

"Almost a sure cure is inhaling smoke from wood or wet or damp straw or hay that will not burn very fast but make a good smoke and inhale for 10 minutes or so, and a few treatments will cure it. It is said the flu starts in the nasal cavities and not in the throat as some think but finally reaches the throat organs.  Burn oak, hickory, ash wood, also corn cobs, anything that will make good smoke and it will kill the germs."

A Georgia physician sent his advice...he had avoided yellow fever this way:

"I believe when the system is thoroughly saturated with the sulphur, as suggested, it will prevent the germs of any disease from attacking the system.  there is no doubt the sulphur will penetrate the system readily,for when one takes sulphur in the system and has a silver dollar in his pocket, it will be turned black, caused by the sulphuretted hydrogen.  Try it and see.  Now it would be very little trouble to have the boys in the camps carry out this suggestion and thus break up the disease which is causing so much suffering and a great many deaths."

"To ease the patient, saturate a small piece of clean white cloth or cotton with alcohol, adding three drops of chloroform and place between the patient's teeth, letting him inhale the fumes of the alcohol and chloroform."

And, presented in the E. St. Louis Journal in 1918:


Members of the Illinois influenza pneumonia commission last night were roused to high enthusiasm by authoritative reports of startling cures of apparently dying persons.

The treatment has been used successfully in a long series of cases at the naval hospital at Chelsea, outside Boston, and first hand information based on interviews with the physicians who originated and used the method was brought to the commission by Dr. Herman N. BUNDESEN, who was sent east by Health Commissioner John Dill ROBERTSON.

Serum is Injected

In a word, the treatment consists of the injection of a serum extracted from the blood of persons who have recovered from the influenza-pneumonia. And the commission discussed the possibility of obtaining supply for use in extreme cases by volunteers from the ranks of the jackies at Great Lakes and the soldiers of Camp Grant, probably 20,000 of whom have passed through the disease.

Supply is limited

The commission emphasized that by no means will it be possible to produce a supply of serum sufficient to treat every person affected by the epidemic or even a large percentage of them.  But the members did see in the discovery a chance to save many human lives.

They also wanted it made plain to the public that the serum is absolutely a different article from the vaccine which is to be manufactured under the commission's direction after this method of Dr. E. C. ROSENOW of the Mayo foundation.  That vaccine is a preventive and is administered to persons who are well.  The serum is a cure and is administered to sick persons.

Of course, no cure was found.  So many families were lost to this virus in such a short time.  There were those who could not afford to bury their dead.  Many times, officials would find bodies stored in homes.  Due to the quick spreading of the disease, many family members would be found dead in their homes, sometimes with one sick child remaining and living among the bodies.  One man, Peter MARRAZO of Chicago, lost his mind and slit the throats of his wife and four children.  He told officials "I'll cure them my own way!"