Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Learning From the Past: The Flu at Its Ugliest

Sandra Dickerson, MD, Lubbock
TMA Be Wise — Immunize℠ Advisory Panel member

In a year when hospitals and emergency departments are overrun with patients and the news reports children dying from influenza, I cannot help but think of 15-year-old Pierpont Balderson.

Who was the young Balderson? The first person to die in Dallas — 100 years ago during the Flu Pandemic of 1918.

One-third of the world population, then estimated at 500 million, was infected with Spanish Flu, a particularly deadly strain of the flu virus, in 1918. In the span of one year, 20 to 50 million people died, mostly young people and mostly from the pneumonia that followed the flu.

This was three times the number of deaths in the “War to End All Wars,” — World War I.

1918 Spanish influenza ward at Camp Funston, Kansas. Image via U.S. Army.

Dallas was lucky. The death rate from the Spanish Flu was “only” 286 per 100,000 residents. New Orleans suffered even more fatalities, with 734 flu deaths per 100,000 people.

But the most disturbing statistic is the deaths were mostly in young people who died from pneumonia, a secondary infection that followed their infection with the flu.

Public health physicians still don’t know where this virulent virus came from, so they don’t know when it will happen again. They only know it will happen again — and that’s the bad news.

The good news is, back then we didn’t have anti-viral drugs to lessen the symptoms of the flu or antibiotics for pneumonia. And we didn’t have the influenza vaccine, nor the capability to develop one.

Now we do.

So this year as we see another scourge of flu (and every year), follow these tips to help keep yourself healthy:

  • Wash your hands.
  • Cover your sneeze or cough.
  • Don’t go to work sick.
  • Augment your immune system to fight off the virus: Get your flu shot!

By doing these simple things, you might save the world.

Be Wise — Immunize is a service mark of the Texas Medical Association. www.texmed.org/bewise

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