The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918

The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918

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Early in September, 1918, the United States was invaded by a scourge of highly infectious and fatal disease, which spread with rapidity throughout the country, eventually infecting 500 million people worldwide, or about 27 percent of the world population, killing anywhere from 17 million to as many as 100 million, making it one of the deadliest epidemics in human history.

Known as Spanish Influenza, it was pandemic in its nature. No one seemed to know much about the disease or its treatment, and medical science and public health agencies were alike unprepared to cope with it.

Caught in the middle of this unfolding disaster was Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, historian Oscar Jewell Harvey. In his little-known 1920 book The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918, Harvey gives a first-hand account of how one middle-sized Pennsylvania city struggled to cope with the devastating plague which struck while America was preoccupied with fighting World War I.

In introducing his book, Harvey writes that “it certainly was a disconcerting fact that, at the very time when vast numbers of the people in widely distributed localities had organized themselves, through the Red Cross and other well-known and efficient mediums, to fight disease and prevent suffering and death, we should be smitten with a visitation which caused more casualties and deaths among the peaceful citizens in the homeland than the deadly missiles and poisonous gases of the enemy effected among the American Expeditionary Forces overseas in the great World War….”

©2020 Oscar Jewell Harvey (P)2020 Oscar Jewell Harvey