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Two Pandemics, Similar Responses PDF Print E-mail
Written by Paul George, BT Contributor   
May 2020

A view of our past from the archives of HistoryMiami

WPix_PictureStory_5-20ith a lethality not seen among epidemics in the past century, today’s COVID-19 pandemic has left few areas of the world untouched.

A little more than 100 years ago, in 1918, another pandemic, often called the Spanish flu because initial reports of the outbreak came from Spain (though its origins were most likely China), struck as World War I, the Great War, entered its final stages.

Historians and other observers believe that the influenza pandemic of 1918 afflicted 500 million people worldwide, with between 50 million and 100 million victims succumbing to the scourge. Abetted by troops, especially naval personnel, carrying the virus, the pandemic spread quickly through the United States by the summer of 1918. That October marked the deadliest month for Americans as an estimated 195,000 persons fell to the disease.

As happened today, the country was late in understanding the severity of the plague. According to Michele Zakis in an informative article appearing in the 2019 edition of Tequesta: The Journal of HistoryMiami Museum, Miami was remiss, too. As late as the second week of October 1918, just a week before the epidemic’s deadliest day, the Miami Herald was assuring readers that “above all, there is not the slightest reason for getting excited over the situation, which is not even grave. The disease will speedily disappear, if the people will use the most ordinary precautions and will take care of themselves.”

But a day later, as influenza was “sweeping through this city,” the Herald changed its tune, now declaring the situation as a “near epidemic.”

From then until the end of October, the pandemic raged through the area. While the City of Miami was hit hard, even in the outlying areas, victims of the influenza outbreak were plentiful. In the next installment of this column, we will look at other elements of Greater Miami and how they were affected by the influenza pandemic of 1918.

 

Paul George is historian at HistoryMiami Museum. To order a copy of this photo, contact HistoryMiami archives manager Ashley Trujillo at 305-375-1623, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

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