Paramedic’s Corner: The Captain of the Men of Death: A Story of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, Part I
By: Ambulance Director Gary Carmack
Posted: Tuesday, August 25, 2009 8:34 pm
Ambulance Director Gary Carmack
On January 31, 1917, Germany’s warlords shocked the world by announcing that they would wage unlimited submarine warfare, sinking all ships in the war zone, including American ships. President Woodrow Wilson, against powerful pressure, was barely maintaining neutrality and avoiding entering the war, which caused him to be known as the “lover of peace.”
Then, the Zimmerman Note was discovered: a coded telegram asking Mexico to join with the German Empire in war with the idea of reclamation of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, territory lost during the Mexican-American War. This was too much for the American people; President Wilson was forced to stand before Congress on the evening of April 2, 1917, asking for a declaration of war, which Congress declared on April 6, 1917.
Within a few frantic months the army went from about 200,000 men to over four million. Recruits were to receive six months of training in America and two more months overseas. Due to the rush to prepare for war, army cantonments (camps) were greatly over-crowded. The camps were set up before camp hospitals, clean water and sanitary systems were prepared.
Going further back in time, in 1873, a millionaire named John Hopkins had died and left behind $3.5 million to found a university and hospital. John Hopkins University was modeled after the greatest German universities. The university opened in 1876; its medical school didn’t open until 1893, but it succeeded so brilliantly and quickly that by the outbreak of World War I, American medical science had caught up to Europe and was about to surpass it.
This quickly became important in combatting problems with influenza outbreaks in military camps.
Influenza is a viral disease. When it kills, it usually does so in one of two ways: either quickly and directly with a violent viral pneumonia, or a slower method through which the body’s defenses become so weakened that bacteria invade the lungs causing a slower-killing bacterial pneumonia.
By World War I the Hopkins-trained people led the world in investigating pneumonia, a disease so deadly it was referred to as “The Captain of the Men of Death.” In Army cantonments, pneumonia was the most potent cause of death.
There is an oddity of American history in that the 1918 Influenza Pandemic has been overlooked in the teaching of American history. The 1918 pamdemic killed more people than any other illness in human recorded history. So why has it been overlooked? Perhaps the distractions of World War I or maybe it is just too horrific — too frightening for humans to talk about.
There were two phases of the 1918 H1N1 Influenza, Spring 1918 there were a few deaths, most people recovered after a few days of illness. Then, September came ...