Nurse’s Role during the Spanish Influenza

European streets erupt with praise each evening as civilians stand on their balconies and clap for the medical professionals who labour endlessly to save patient after patient rushed through the hospital doors. We can all agree that they deserve the honour and so much more.

One of the dominant heroes of the Spanish Influenza had to be the nurses, who risked their lives to save and/ or care for the victims of the 1918/ 1919 pandemic. Unfortunately nobody lined the streets, gave them a clap of honour each evening or praised their exhausting work. These silent heroes risked their lives with each patient they saw, fighting exhaustion and defeat each day in order to keep fighting the ravaging disease.

World War One:

Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife, Countess Sophie Chotek, about to set off on their visit to Saravejo on the 28th June, 1914.

The first world war began in the June of 1914 after the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand by a Bosnian Serb. Austria- Hungary, the Archduke’s country, then declared war on Serbia on 28th July 1914, and marked the outbreak of World War One.

In a world where most women were not even allowed to vote, thousands of nurses enlisted to work as Army Nurses in the war and play their part to support their country.

In most of the countries involved in World War One, all able- bodied men either enlisted or were drafted to fight in the war. This of course meant that most of the doctors were away from their home countries when the subsequent pandemic eventually broke out.

The Spanish Influenza:

Influenza Epidemic, Mill Valley, California, 1918 (C.Raymond)

The origins of the Spanish Influenza is unknown, but the first recorded incidence of the flu was among the American military in the spring of 1918. As soldiers from one country came into contact with soldiers from other countries and then went home to their families, it was extremely easy for the flu to be passed from person to person, and the global spread was exponential.

The first strain was quite mild, with most patients suffering the usual flu- like symptoms, and very few deaths. The second strain, however, came in the autumn of 1919, and this strain was a lot deadlier, causing the high mortality rate that history books write about.

It is estimated that over 500 million people were infected by the Spanish flu, while 20 – 50 million people were killed by it, and is known as one of the most dangerous pandemics in history.

Lack of Doctors:

A nurse tends to a patient in the influenza ward at Walter Reed Hospital during Spanish Influenza

Unfortunately most of the doctors were fighting as soldiers or working as Army paramedics in the war, and were completely unable to help with Spanish Influenza patients in their home countries.

Civilians were in desperate need of doctors, and soon the responsibility of the medical care of patients fell on the nurses.

Women during the Spanish Influenza:

Health workers prepare to retrieve victims of the 1918 influenza epidemic in St. Louis

The nurses of 1918/ 1919 are not given enough credit for the work that they accomplished during the Spanish Influenza. They worked tirelessly in hospitals as well as home visits, seeing as many as forty cases in a day, consistently putting themselves in danger with each patient they saw to and cared for. As there were no antibiotics or medicines for their patients, nurses made sure the Spanish Influenza victims remained hydrated, in bed and isolated to reduce infecting others who may not have yet had the disease.

Before the Spanish Influenza, the necessity for nurses was limited and they were underappreciated, their choice of profession was looked down upon and they were not seen as very important. However, by the end of the Spanish influenza, nurses had been on the forefront of the pandemic and people began looking upon them as an invaluable asset to society. They were seen as a necessary part of life and extremely important to the field of health care.

Because of these tenacious and courageous women from one hundred years ago, the nurses of today are celebrated and clapped for alongside all other medical professionals because of their hard work and endless dedication to saving lives and caring for who ever walks through their hospital doors.

How the world of sports reacted to the Spanish Flu

While people were celebrating Armistice Day in autumn 1918 an extremely deadly virulent strain emerged behind the scenes.

After the end of World War I a hidden enemy continued killing millions of people over the globe leaving over 50 million dead bodies behind.
Spain was the first to report the outbreak of the world wide epidemic and since then the causing virus is known as the Spanish Flu.
We still do not fully understand the origins of the pathogen and how it developed itself into a human virus but one thing is certain. It spreaded unexpectedly fast and infected half a billion people.

American Red Cross care for infected during “Spanish Flu Epidemic ” 1918

We can see COVID-19 spreading with the same speed and learning from the past strict measures made by governments all over the world seem reasonable beside the fact that its morality rate is nowhere near to Spanish Flu’s. The best way to prevent the spreading of the virus is minimalizing contact between individuals. We could not find a better place crowded with thousands of human individuals than a sport event. Thankfully the world of sports reacted to the outbreak of coronavirus as fast as possible.

The cancellation and postponement of sporting events are a common occurrence nowadays. Almost every major events from F1 Grand Prixs through the NBA season to the Olympic games were affected. But if cancelling great gatherings is the only way stopping viruses getting from one human to another why didn’t the sport associatons reacted to the Spanish Flu as fast as it was needed? Or did they eventually?

The Spanish Flu was highy underestimated all over the world until it started killing men, women and even children in great numbers.

At the time MLB was the largest American pro league. According to FANBUZZ, „(MLB) season ended shortly before the worst of the flu pandemic during the fall of 1918. Public health was so bad by the time the 1918 World Series came around, though, Major League Baseball went so far as to ban the “spitball” from being thrown.” Doctors were fighting in Europe and healthcare was in very poor conditions and the virus killing more and more people teams started to step back from games and the season came to its end. But with the Montreal Canadians and the Seattle Metropolitans having the same record they are remembered as co-champions.

Highschool and college football games, soccer and boxing matches were cancelled and public gatherings were banned in general.

Despite all the problems caused by the war and the flu, in 1920 the Belgian Olympic Committee decided to hold the Olypic games mainly to fade bad news about hunger, famine and bad post war circumstances. They sent out invitations to the games of the Seventh Olympia to be held in Antwerp.
They excluded the members of the late German alliance.

Polish legionist playing soccer 1918

Both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour De France were held in 1919 over the ruins of Europe the war left behind. The 1919 Tour De France is still known as one of the toughest race ever held simply because of the lack of usable roads and the number of finishing riders were the lowest in history with only 10 competitors finishing the race.

With that in mind it we can understand easier why cancelling sporting events is a reasonable and right step to do in these circumstances we are all in.
Learning from the mistakes of the past is vital for our future especially during the times of an epidemic.