Spokane and the Nation: The Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919

Headline: “‘Flu’ Brings Woe to Dr. Anderson”

Source: Spokesman-Review, October 10, 1918, page 5

Subject: Citizens’ questions about influenza

Synopsis: Dr. J.B. Anderson, Spokane’s leading health official, has been fielding questions from the citizens of the city ever since the ban on public gatherings. Some have to do with whether a funeral or wedding constitutes a public gathering. Others want to know if various home remedies are useful in preventing or treating the disease.

Notable Quotations:

• “Spokane is in the grip of a modern plague. Unlike ancient days, there are no bonfires in the streets, no praying crowds of people in the churches, no burning of weird concoctions of spices and vinegar or sprinkling salt on flame.”

• “Dr. Anderson was called up personally as early as 6 a.m. and the girls in the office had no time for routine work, the questions were so many.”

“‘Flu Brings Woe to Dr. Anderson”

One Anxious Mother Asks if Asafetida Bag Will Drive Off Spanish Malady.

Watch for Sneezes

Health Officer Suggests That Teakettles Be Kept Boiling – Stay in Bed Four Days.

By Hannah Hinsdale.

“If it’s time to go to church, do you think you have a chill?

If it’s time to go to work do you feel rather ill?

O, be very careful, please,

For you can tell by signs like these

That you have the ‘flu’ disease.”

            -- With apologies to Gelett Burgess.

            If you have, stay home in bed and for four days let business, the family and all duties go unheeded. To avoid spreading the Spanish influenza is the first duty of the loyal citizen these days.

            Whether, Dr. Anderson says, you believe in the efficacy of medical treatment or the potency of germs does not matter. So many people do believe in diseases as an entity that, out of regard for public sentiment alone, it behooves you to take care of yourself.

No Burning of Concoctions.

            Spokane is in the grip of a modern plague. Unlike ancient days, there are no bonfires in the streets, no praying crowds of people in the churches, no burning of weird concoctions of spices and vinegar or sprinkling salt on flame. Instead, there are no churches open, no movies, no schools, no parties, no public weddings. Even funerals that desire to be imposing may only continue if the band is hitched outside the church during the service.

            Such matters were passed upon at the health office in the city hall yesterday.

            Dr. Anderson was called up personally as early as 6 a.m. and the girls in the office had no time for routine work, the questions were so many. A minister appeared and asked if a wedding with 30 guests was a public gathering. He was told “yes.”

            The bride appeared later. She decided to risk matrimony anyway, and would not put off the wedding even if it had to be guestless.

Citizens Keep Dr. Anderson Busy.

            Undertakers have discovered that, according to Dr. Anderson’s edict, only open air funerals of any size will be permitted. One anxious mother called up and asked if it would be helpful if she tied asafetida around her son’s neck. “They tried to do that to me when I was a kid,” Dr. Anderson told her. “It had one merit. It kept people away from me.” By the same token any anxious mother might try a little clove of garlic, or a large onion as an amulet against infection. One attendant at the health office said that every person in town who sneezed during the day had called up and asked for a diagnosis.

            Such remarks as these were common over the phone:

            “Yes, madame, although there is nothing compulsory about it every one is advised to keep their children at home.”

            “Yes, madame, it is a direct contact disease.”

            The girls in the office did not have the poetic title for the trouble that Dr. Anderson employed. He calls Spanish “flu” a “droplet infection.” It is caused by getting too near some one when they sneeze or cough or talk. The doctor has not many remedies for the trouble, but one he boosts is the full water reservoir in the furnace or a kettle full of water on the stove, “and keep her singing,” he says. The humidity should be 50 degrees in the house. Fires should be lit every night and morning to drive away the dampness.

            “No, madame.” The doctor was answering an interrupting telephone. “There will be no parties given.” And the would-be hostess hung up. A club manager came in and wanted special privileges. The doctor was kind, but firm, very firm, and a compromise was effected that allows classes in athletics to be held out of doors, but puts a stop to swimming and gymnasium work.

Take Influenza Serum.

            Many of the staff at the health office went in late yesterday afternoon and received a shot of the influenza serum. The health office, however, refuses to prescribe for those who call up and refers them to their doctor. Many of the calls were from neighbors of “flu” suspects, telling the officer about the cases. One woman who they thought was joking said she and her seven children had it. On investigation it was discovered they had.

            After all, the doctor says it is only a lesson in preparedness. If we were all physically fit we would not need to fear much from the disease. It’s all a question of resistance and common sense. Stay in bed if you have a pain in the chest or begin to cough and call for the doctor right away.