Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Kewaunee County, Algoma, 1918 & Influenza

An article in the January 23, 1918 issue of USA Today tells readership the “flu season is wretched, but it’s not the worst.” The worst was 100 years ago during World War l. It wasn’t only a nationwide flu, it spread throughout the world and was called a pandemic.  At least 675,000 people died in the U.S. alone. Wisconsin, Kewaunee County and Algoma were not immune to the disease.

Well after the advent of the flu, the State Board of Health, late in 1919, adopted methods for its prevention and suppression. Physicians were mandated to report, in writing, to local health officers any case of flu within 24 hours. If a doctor was not engaged, such reporting fell to the head of the family, school principal, plant superintendent, hotel keeper or anyone else in authority. A red placard containing the word “Influenza” was ordered to be placed in a conspicuous place on the home of one who had influenza or pneumonia. Persons with the disease were to be isolated. It was pointed out that droplets produced during sneezing, coughing and speaking spread the disease, which was also transmitted with common drinking cups, dirty hands, roller towels and more. Posters and newspaper articles created public awareness.

Nearly a year before the state mandates, Algoma Board of Health forbad gathering for public funerals, parties, lyceum courses or anything involving groups of people. Physicians felt that the influenza was showing signs of being managed, feeling that the city had seen the worst of it, but it was also that gatherings would continue to spread it.

When the influenza known as the Spanish Flu reared its ugly head in Algoma, health authorities closed schools, including Door-Kewaunee County Training School, and theaters. At the time there were 25 cases reported in the city and each day brought new reports, including that of assistant teacher Miss Ingerson who was said to be recovering. Principal F.A. Maas and his wife were both suffering from the epidemic, but their cases were not reported as being serious. How long public gatherings would be banned was anybody’s guess.

The flu struck Kewaunee County and was known to have surfaced in Forestville, Brussels and Union. It was all over. Thanksgiving 1918 saw the United Slavs cancelling their program at the Kewaunee’s Bohemian Opera House. The group felt that whenever conditions were favorable, it would hold its Thanksgiving program.

It was World War 1 that spread  influenza and death to the four corners of the earth. One would think battlefield deaths came from bullets, but, as in the Civil War, disease killed fighting men faster than ammunition.

Drafted men died in camp before ever getting to the battlefield. Algoma’s Louis Bull died in Edgewater, Maryland, of pneumonia following weeks of being treated for flu. Elmer Thibaudeau of Luxemburg suffered the same fate after enlisting only a month earlier. Joseph Koukalik of Franklin was another. Adolph Wacek died of influenza in Kansas City. It was said Adolph had an irresistible urge to serve his flag and country, however he never got to the battlefield. Louis Gerondale was luckier. Shortly after he left for training, he was struck by the influenza. Gerondale recovered and was sent home to Brussels to recuperate on a 9-day furlough. Paul Tikalsky was in an army hospital in France, but he too reported recovery in December.

Saloon keeper James Soucek was Algoma’s 2nd flu victim in April 1918. It was said he died because he did not follow Dr. Witcpalek’s orders for a prescription. Since he felt he couldn’t neglect his business, he kept working. Farmer Joseph Palechek of Rio Creek was sick only a few days when he died of pneumonia during April 1918. Mr. and Mrs. A.J. Svoboda of Casco had the flu at the same time in December, however both recovered. Lincoln Town saw three deaths during one November 1918 week: Frank Guillette, Frank Martin and William Wautlet. During the same week, 24 year old Rankin blacksmith Edward Durst succumbed to flu. Influenza forced Algoma thresher Fred Braun to discontinue his work in October 1918, but then his brother Charles came from Green Bay to help out until Fred recovered.

History remembers the pandemic during World War 1 as the worst, but it seemed as if la grippe was around yearly. In 1898, the papers fairly screamed influenza. Once again the dreaded prevalent influenza was causing alarm in New York, Chicago and other cities. Papers said it was the worst since 1891 and coupled with impure water in Chicago, many victims never regained their physical or mental health. Fire and police departments were in danger of being crippled by the sick lists. Manufacturing was also suffering.

There were 50 million deaths in 1918. Where does it come from? A Google search offers as many articles as one wants to read. One article says the term “influenza” was first used in England in 1703, and that the word is an Italian world for “influence,” referring to cause. It was believed that stars, the moon and plants influenced the flu.

Influenza wasn’t discovered in humans, but was discovered through animal studies. Veterinarian J.S. Koen saw the disease in pigs and felt it was the same thing as was called Spanish flue in 1918. Swine flu is another widely used term. In 1938 Jonas Salk and Thomas Francis developed the first flu vaccine for the virus discovered in the 1930s. That vaccine was used on World War ll soldiers. Salk used that experience to develop and perfect a polio vaccine that was approved in 1955.

By January 1951 Algoma’s Dr. Herb Foshion was encouraging residents to prevent the flu by getting a vaccine. In at least 50% of injections, flu was entirely prevented.  For those who got injections in the fall, Foshion recommended another in January. Those who never received an injection were advised to get one immediately and then another three weeks later. Foshion stressed the vaccine’s effectiveness while pointing out influenza in Europe appeared to be as serious as the 1918 epidemic. He pointed out the deaths in Europe, the U.S. and in Algoma.

As the USA Today says, “flu is wretched.”

Sourcces: Algoma Record Herald, USA Today.

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