WWI flu pandemic wiped out 675,000

With the current scare over the swine flu, I was wondering how many people died in the flu pandemic during World War I. I know when you walk through old cemeteries, you see whole families who died during that period, conceivably from the flu. It's very sad.

— M.F., Medford

It is far too premature to even suggest today's swine flu will cause the same kind of devastation humanity suffered during the great pandemic of 1918-19, M.F.

After all, we have more effective medications, hospital care and quarantines.

No one seems to have the exact figure of how many died during the WWI influenza pandemic, known as the "Spanish flu," although at least 20 million worldwide is a figure often cited by government estimates. The deadly bug traveled the entire globe, causing panic around the world.

Nationally, the bug bit 28 percent of Americans, killing about 675,000. An estimated 43,000 servicemen mobilized for WWI died of the flu.

In Oregon, Medford was the first to impose a ban on all public gatherings during the height of the flu scare. Medford Mayor C.E. "Pop" Gates issued an edict closing "all places of amusements, theaters, moving picture shows . . . churches, lodges, schools, and all public meetings of every description where people congregate — same to be in effect until said epidemic has subsided."

When that didn't stop the flu, the city then required all residences where the fllu had hit to post a blue sign stating, "Contagious, Influenza."

The City Council also issued an order requiring all persons in the city conducting business, or simply riding or out walking on the streets, to wear masks.

One wire story reported one unusual success story when a mother in Portland used an old folk remedy when nothing else worked for her 4-year-old child sick with the flu. She dosed the child with onion syrup, then buried her in raw onions for three full days.

The child survived, but it may have been in spite of the onion bath.

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