Spanish “Flu” Reaches Town on Schedule, Public Meetings Taboo and Halls and Churches Ordered Closed

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—San Pedro News Pilot, Volume 6, Number 10, 11 October 1918

By the summer of 1919, the flu pandemic came to an end. Those that were infected either died or developed herd immunity. The below article from the San Pedro News Pilot, which is archived at the University of California Riverside, explains that what our city is doing today closely mirrors what was done 102 years ago.  Almost 90 years later, in 2008, researchers announced they’d discovered what made the 1918 flu so deadly: A group of three genes enabled the virus to weaken a victim’s bronchial tubes and lungs and clear the way for bacterial pneumonia.

— Random Lengths News Editors

SAN PEDRO, Oct. 11, 1918— “Spanish influenza” has made its appearance here. Even among those who have it, the opinion persists that it is nothing but the malevolent malady known years ago as la grippe, and shortened through familiarity to plain “grip.” But no matter what the name, the microbes that have been sweeping west have arrived. It is estimated that there are 150 cases in San Pedro. The effect of the situation was felt by the community far more by reason of precautions taken than by the ailment itself. A rigorous closing of all places in which people are wont to congregate has been ordered. No theater may open its doors after 6 o’clock this evening. The same rule applies to churches. Public meetings of any sort are forbidden. This spoils an entertainment and dance that the Knights of Columbus had planned for tonight In Liberty Auditorium, at which Joseph Scott was to be the speaker. The Jugo-Slavs were to have gathered on behalf of the Liberty Loan and this will not be permitted. Even the open air meeting that was to have been a feature of Saturday at the plaza, a point at which the launching across the channel may be viewed to advantage, had to be called off. The same is true of any proposed crowd. There may be no formal meetings indoors or out. Medical men have contended that even if the influenza appeared in this section its force would be light and its stay short, and they adhere to this opinion. They had been hoping that it would not appear at all. “In every crowd,” said Dr. G. T. Van Voorhees this morning, “there are certain now to be some infected persons who will be careless as to coughing and sneezing, and to guard against the spreading of influenza by this method is the only safe course.”

“There is a great deal of fear,” said Dr. A. C. Stone. “People have become alarmed by reports of the influenza and it has caused them to be in a receptive mood. The best way is to keep in good health by proper food and fresh air, and to make up the mind that [you don’t] have it. I do not look for an outbreak here.” R. S. Sterns, camp worker for the Christian Scientists at San Pedro expresses regret that so much has been said on the subject and apprehension excited by prophesy that influenza was bound to come.

“I blame the newspapers somewhat,” he said. “They have taught people to look for the symptoms. In other words, they have spread the trouble through the minds of the public.” As to how far the influenza has invaded the army and navy no word is given out. It has entered a number of homes, however, and in one instance every member of a family of seven is down with it.”

Spanish “Flu” Simply Grip on this Coast

—San Pedro News Pilot, Volume 5, Number 308, 2 October 1918

The report that a group of 50 naval recruits brought here from Memphis, Tenn., are victims of Spanish influenza was denied yesterday by City Health Officer Powers, who declared that the sailors are suffering from plain old-fashioned grip. Dr. C. A. Smalley, who is attending Lieut. Henry R. Hogaboom, recently returned from the East, declared that the officer’s ailment, at first feared to be the influenza, says no genuine case of Spanish influenza has yet come to his attention in this county.

Spanish Flu Pandemic Ends

By the summer of 1919, the flu pandemic came to an end, as those that were infected either died or developed immunity.

Almost 90 years later, in 2008, researchers announced they’d discovered what made the 1918 flu so deadly: A group of three genes enabled the virus to weaken a victim’s bronchial tubes and lungs and clear the way for bacterial pneumonia.

Since 1918, there have been several other influenza pandemics, although none as deadly. A flu pandemic from 1957 to 1958 killed around 2 million people worldwide, including some 70,000 people in the United States and a pandemic from 1968 to 1969 killed about 1 million people, including some 34,000 Americans.

More than 12,000 Americans perished during the H1N1 (or “swine flu”) pandemic that occurred from 2009 to 2010. The novel coronavirus pandemic of 2020 is spreading around the world as countries race to find a cure for COVID-19 and citizens shelter in place in an attempt to avoid spreading the disease, which is particularly deadly because many carriers are asymptomatic for days before realizing they are infected.

Each of these modern day pandemics brings renewed interest in and attention to the Spanish Flu, or “forgotten pandemic,” so-named because its spread was overshadowed by the deadliness of World War I and covered up by news blackouts and poor record-keeping.