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REFLECTIONS BY SAMMY WAY: South Carolina confronted 'Spanish flu' pandemic 1918-20

Posted 4/4/20

Reflections remembers South Carolina's involvement in World War I and the difficulties encountered with the spread of influenza among troops at home and abroad. This respiratory infection soon …

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REFLECTIONS BY SAMMY WAY: South Carolina confronted 'Spanish flu' pandemic 1918-20

Posted

Reflections remembers South Carolina's involvement in World War I and the difficulties encountered with the spread of influenza among troops at home and abroad. This respiratory infection soon reached pandemic stage as it literally spread around the world. Many of Sumter's 49 casualties during the war fell prey to this malady. Research will apprise our readers with the early recommended treatments and medications utilized to treat this rampant disease during 1918-1920.

This pandemic and the problems associated with its treatment bear many similarities associated with the current COVID-19 virus affecting our planet today.

The majority of the data and photos were obtained from The Sumter Item archives and additional data, with a degree of editing because of its length, was obtained from Wikipedia Encyclopedia.

The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, the deadliest in history, infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide - about one third of the planet's population - and killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million victims, including some 675,000 Americans. The 1918 flu was first observed in Europe, the United States and parts of Asia before swiftly spreading around the world.

At the time, there were no effective drugs or vaccines to treat this killer flu strain.

Citizens were ordered to wear masks, and schools, theaters and businesses were shuttered and bodies piled up in makeshift morgues before the virus ended its deadly global march.

An article published in the Watchman and Southron newspaper on Oct. 19, 1918, stated the "Spanish influenza (named because it was first observed in this country) had reached epidemic proportions in practically every state and in only three had it been reported as stationary with some improvement. It was also known as the 1918 Flu Pandemic. In spite of all efforts by federal, state and local authorities, the disease had spread rapidly, and the death toll was high in most parts of the nation. In the army camps, the epidemic was subsiding with a decrease in new cases being noted at the office of the Surgeon General of the Army."

"The fuel administration, at the suggestion of the public health service, announced that as far as possible all engagements and appointments for conferences with out-of-town persons during a two-week period should be canceled. The disease was spreading without abatement; however, the 60,000 reported cases were being fought in South Carolina by an additional 16 physicians, working as assistant surgeons of the United States public health service under the joint direction of the State Board of Health Service. The services rendered by these physicians (and other first responders) were of great value, and they did not spare themselves in their efforts to check the disease. Dr. Hayne urged people working in groups to protect themselves from infection as much as possible by wearing gauze masks. The masks were quickly and cheaply made but proved to be effective."

In a report issued in December 1918 from the bureau of vital statistics of the State Board of Health, 3,591 people died in South Carolina during October.

During the same month, Camp (Fort) Jackson recorded 354 deaths because of the disease; Camp Sevier at Greenville reported 329 deaths because of influenza and subsequent diseases.

An article titled "Money given by Legislature to be expended in giving aid to stricken communities" appeared in The Sumter Daily Item on Jan. 22, 1919.

"Dr. C. V. Akins, United States Public Health Service in charge of influenza control measures in South Carolina, was gratified with the quick response which the General Assembly made in appropriation of $10,000 to be used in combating this disease."

"Flu epidemic not expected. Those who have had the disease enjoy immunity" was an article that appeared in the Watchman and Southron in December 1920.

On Dec. 27, 1920, it was announced in Washington that "Influenza attacks carried an immunity to subsequent attacks lasting several years, according to the public health service in an announcement made after an intensive study, which declared that since the epidemics of 1918 and 1919 affected such a large proportion of the population it seemed reasonable to believe that should the disease become prevalent during the upcoming winter it would not assume the epidemic proportions of the last two years nor be in such a severe form."

"There are several explanations for the rapid decline in the lethality of this disease. One is that doctors became more effective in prevention and treatment of the pneumonia that developed after the victims had contracted the virus. However, many researchers repute this finding. Another theory was that by 1918, the virus had mutated extremely rapidly to a less lethal strain."