The Spanish Flu
On September 16, 1918 an oil tanker arrived in the port of New Orleans. Five crew members were sick with influenza but that number quickly rose in the tight quarters. The infirmed were removed to the Belvedere hospital and the ship was allowed to continue upriver to deposit its oil. Influenza had come to the city. On September 19, 1918, a United Fruit Company cargo ship arrived heavily laden with bananas. Eleven persons on board were suffering from Influenza. The sick were transitioned to areas within the city, including Jackson Barracks to accommodate suffering soldiers. The ship was then allowed to unload its cargo. The clock was ticking. The bomb was about to go off.
September 29, 1918 the city registered its first local death form the disease. Cases began to mount but it is hard to know how many because the city was not properly recording the numbers. It is possible that there were 7,000 cases in New Orleans by the beginning of October. The City began to act, citing that all Influenza cases had to be reported. It then moved to shut down schools, churches, movie theatres and other places of amusement. Large public gatherings such as funerals and weddings were banned though saloons, ice cream parlors, and restaurants were allowed to stay open. It would not be enough to stop the progression. In just two days, October 12th and 13th, 4,875 cases were reported. Area hospitals were overwhelmed. By October 20th, over 2,000 more cases were reported. Charity Hospital devoted the entire 2nd and 3rd floors to Influenza patients. By the end of its stay in New Orleans, Influenza had taken quite a toll.
Between October and April of 1918, 54,089 cases reported and of that number approximately, 3,489 died. That was a 6.5% fatality rate. Only Pittsburgh and Philadelphia had higher death rates. The great Influenza pandemic of 191819 killed more people than World War 1. It claimed somewhere between 20 and 40 million lives, more deaths in a single year than in four years of the Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351. It was known as Spanish Flu or La Grippe and within two years of its beginning, a fifth of the world’s population was infected. It was oddly deadliest for people aged 20 to 40, as the Flu usually kills small children and the elderly. It infected 20% of all Americans. 675,000 Americans died. When it struck, it killed quickly often filling the lungs with a bloodtinged froth that sometimes gushed from the mouth and nose. Victims literally suffocated in their final moments. Man may bring war to the landscape but nature continues to prove what an efficient killer she is.
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