My grandfather’s account of the 1918 Spanish flu

My German immigrant grandfather in Peoria wrote the following account in his diary in the fall of 1918.  It’s sort of timely due to current health events going on around the world right now.

It’s been five weeks since I last wrote anything. There have been great changes in Peoria and the world. Since the beginning of October, in almost all the states of America, a terrible epidemic has broken out, called the “Spanish Influenza.” It was most notable in the barracks among the soldiers. It begins with a cold, then a fever and so on until pneumonia sets in, and most die. I was sick with it. I immediately went to the doctor and spent three days in bed. Since I did not have any real care at home, I suggested that I go to the hospital. After two days in the hospital, I felt much better. I was there for a week. All I needed was a good rest, which I received. I did not go back to work right away and the expenses cost me a lot of money. I had used up all my savings.

After reading up on the Spanish flu, I realized that he’s pretty lucky to have made it through alive. According to wikipedia, the 1918 flu pandemic which lasted January 1918 through December 1920 was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic. It infected 500 million people across the world and killed 50 to 100 million of them — three to five percent of the world’s population — making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.  Wow.  Can you imagine losing 3 to 5 percent of everyone you know?  That’s a lot of friends and family to lose from this one flu.


[Red Cross workers remove a Spanish flu victim from their St Louis home, from wikipedia]

Most influenza outbreaks disproportionately kill juvenile, elderly, or already weakened patients.  But the 1918 pandemic killed predominantly healthy young adults. Modern research, using virus taken from the bodies of frozen victims, has concluded that the virus kills through an overreaction of the body’s immune system. The strong immune reactions of young adults ravaged their bodies, but the weaker immune systems of children and older adults resulted in fewer deaths among those groups.  Amazing.

Why was it called the Spanish flu?  To maintain morale, wartime censors minimized early reports of illness and mortality in Germany, Britain, France, and the United States, but papers were free to report the epidemic’s effects in neutral Spain creating a false impression of Spain as especially hard hit — thus the pandemic’s nickname Spanish flu.

You can read my grandfather’s entire journal by clicking below.  It’s quite interesting!  Of course, I’m biased!   🙂

Thanks for your interest!

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