The current media hyperbole around the H1N1 flu virus has a lot of people worried. I don't intend to belittle the suffering of those who have died from it, or lost friends and family. But so far this "pandemic" is a long way from being as serious as the Spanish flu 90 years ago which rode with troops returning from World War I. It is suprising how little this pandemic forebear is mentioned today, especially considering it is thought to be a variant of H1N1.
Here's what Stanford U's site says: "The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed more people than the Great War, known today as World War I (WWI), at somewhere between 20 and 40 million people. It has been cited as the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history. More people died of influenza in a single year than in four years of the Black Death Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351. Known as "Spanish Flu" or "La Grippe" the influenza of 1918-1919 was a global disaster. " This flu came, according to epidemiologists, in three waves. The first one was relatively mild, and most victims recovered. But the second and third waves (probably a mutated strain) caused in many victims a virulent pneumonia that often resulted in death before doctors had even diagnosed it.
At the time, of course, medical personnel lacked the drugs and technology that today might have helped identify the disease and combat its effects. Also, data on deaths was not collected as assiduously; some historians now think 20 million people may have died from the flu in India alone.
Unlike most influenzas, including the current H1N1, this strain proved deadliest for previously healthy people between the ages of 20 and 40. It killed so many so quickly that the average age of death in the US dropped by 10 years. Katharine Anne Porter's book Pale Horse, Pale Rider is an eloquent testament to the era.
It also killed my paternal grandfather. He shared my first and last name, and my middle name "Parker", was the nickname everyone in the little town of Seaforth, Ontario, called him. He was a skilled machinist and the local fire chief. We have one photo of him, proudly holding my father and aunt. He's a handsome, strapping man with strong features, and darkish skin in the black and white image -- perhaps there's some Mohawk or Black Irish in his ancestry that we don't know about. One of my sisters, a few years ago, met an old man on the train who remembered him. "Everyone liked Parker," he said, "He always had a smile on his face."
Losing his father within a few days so affected my father at ten that it closed him down emotionally for the rest of his life. But I do remember him saying "I'll never forget the sound of the men's boots on the wooden stairs as they carried his body out."
Causes John Oughton Supports
PEN International, Amnesty International, League of Canadian Poets, POR AMOR, Greenpeace