Influenza is a yearly affliction but rarely does it reach epidemic proportions. In Canada, influenza appeared in epidemic proportions at least seven times, in the 19th century and a few times since.
A killing flu epidemic occurred in 1889-1890. The virus originated in Hong Kong, then spread rapidly through the Orient and from there to North America. The incidence of death ensuing in most cases from complications such as pneumonia was high in all parts of' Canada.
Still more serious than the flu epidemic of 1889-1890 was the epidemic of 1918-1919. The virus appeared to have originated in Spain then quickly spread to the troops in France and was later brought to Canada by returning servicemen.
Twenty one million people died throughout the world from this killing flu epidemic. Of this total, 548,000 died in the United States and a further 30,000 died in Canada. About one in six people contracted this virus. Once this dreaded influenza virus was brought to Canada it quickly made its way even into the remotest communities and thousands of people of all ages were stricken. The older people, with chronic illnesses, developed severe complications such as pneumonia and thousands throughout Canada died in this age group alone. No one was immune to this dreaded influenza and children of all ages as well as people in the middle age group were also sitricken with this virus.
The virus of this killing flu entered the body through the respiratory tract and soon it spread to cause symptoms, that included: fever, chills, headaches, sore throat, muscular pain, loss of appetite and cough. During the flu epidemic of 1918-1919 there were few effective drugs available which could be used to control it. Soon all medical facilities and personnel were exhausted in trying to control this serious epidemic. It not only brought death but also social and economic disruptions as well. Schools throughout all of Canada were closed, all celebrations and get togethers were discouraged as well as mass gatherings at sporting events. Even with all these precautions many people still died from this epidemic. Whenever the head of a household died it created an additional hardship to the family who depended on him or her for a living.
Many families in the hamlet of Elk Point as well as residents in our surrounding communities were stricken with this killing influenza. Many people lost loved ones and in many cases more than one member of a family died. The many who tried to avoid mass gatherings in hopes of escaping this dreaded flu found it difficult to run away from. Some were lucky in not contracting it while others were not so fortunate. In many homes, the occupants had a small incense lamp burning at all times. They hoped this would ward off this killing flu virus, others burned sulphur in their homes for the same reason. This killing influenza reached its peak during the winter of 1918-1919 however it didnât totally subside until late in 1919.
In recent times influenza has occurred a few times but not the killing type such as the one that took so many lives in 1918-1919. The milder influenza is usually treated by giving the patient a lot of bed rest, an increase in fluids and the use of many modern drugs now available on the market. Today, people with chronic health problems as well as those over 65 years are encouraged to receive immunizations at least 30 days prior to the flu season which normally begins about December. The reason for this is it usually takes from two to four weeks for a person to build immunity after the injection. People with ailments such as heart, kidney and lung diseases should not fail to take a flu shot.
With the immunization program as well as the use of many modern drugs such as penicillin it is unlikely that the world will ever see another killing flu epidemic such as the one that took so many lives in 1918-1919.