The Literary Salon – The Great Influenza

In view of the current fears about the spread of coronavirus COVD-19 this month’s literary salon will feature a New York times bestseller first published in 2014, The Great Influenza, by John M. Barry.   The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-19 was first recorded in army training camps in the US in the spring of 1918, spread to Europe with the mobilization of the troops and eventually infected about one-third of the world’s population, killing an estimated 17-50 million people worldwide (mortality rate 2-3%), more than the number who died in the war.    While most patients will likely get a mild version of COVID-19 and recover quickly, when you think about the 2-3% mortality rate, the implications are staggering considering how many more people there are in the world today.   For more about the 1918 pandemic see Wikipedia link and CDC link. 

 The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in HistoryThe Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest P andemic in History by John M. Barry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Publisher’s Blurb:

At the height of WWI, history’s most lethal influenza virus erupted in an army camp in Kansas, moved east with American troops, then exploded, killing as many as 100 million people worldwide. It killed more people in twenty-four months than AIDS killed in twenty-four years, more in a year than the Black Death killed in a century. But this was not the Middle Ages, and 1918 marked the first collision of science and epidemic disease. Magisterial in its breadth of perspective and depth of research and now revised to reflect the growing danger of the avian flu, The Great Influenza is ultimately a tale of triumph amid tragedy, which provides us with a precise and sobering model as we confront the epidemics looming on our own horizon. John M. Barry has written a new afterword for this edition that brings us up to speed on the terrible threat of the avian flu and suggest ways in which we might head off another flu pandemic.
About the Author:
John M. Barry is a prize-winning and bestselling author and noted historian with such an extensive C.V. that I scarcely know how to summarize it.    Here’s a link to his website –link.
Observations:
My interest in reading this book in 2014 was sparked by the 100th anniversary of WW1.   I was preparing some information for a museum display of the Great War and came across this postcard of a hospital among my great uncle’s war memorabilia.     
WW1 Uncle Charlie hospital
This eventually led to a blog where I traced his journey from Canada to Britain, France and Germany and back again.   Uncle Charlie had caught the Spanish flu in 1919 and was six months recuperating in a British convalescent home before he was well enough to be sent home.   His prolonged illness was most likely complicated by being gassed in the war, as those with bad lungs always seem to suffer the most with influenza once it enters the respiratory phase.  
Family Portrait

John and Ellen Family Portrait – 1912

As well I had a great aunt, Jenny, (the girl in the middle front row beside her father), who died of the Spanish flu, leaving behind two young children and a grieving husband so angry at God he never darkened the door of a church again.   Jenny’s name is engraved on the bell of the parish church as she was one of the young girls who helped to raise the most money for it’s installation.  
Having been stricken with the H1N1/swine flu myself in the fall of 2009, one week before the vaccine was available, I am grateful to be retired now.  Certainly it was the sickest I’ve ever been in my life, for the longest.   Two weeks of misery, off work, followed by four weeks of weakness, while working, although never in any danger of dying despite some SOB, and I do remember exactly the middle aged woman who coughed all over me, as she was wearing flannel PJ’s.   I worked one block from a busy ER so we saw a steady stream of patients in for the antiviral Tamiflu,which was provided free by the government, and when the drug company ran out of the suspension for kids we made it from scratch just like in the old days.   It annoyed me greatly that I, the Queen of Hand Sanitizers, was the only person in my workplace who came down with it, me and one ER doctor, but H1N1, like the 1918 flu, seemed to strike younger healthy people and could in a perfect cytokine storm (inflammatory overreaction of the immune system) sometimes lead to multi-organ failure.    Of course we had antibiotics and ventilators to treat the respiratory complications unlike in 1918.   And then there was SARS in 2004, with all of those unnecessary deaths in Toronto as the health care system did not even know what they were dealing with until it was too late.      
While I don’t remember the specifics of this book, as it was six long years and many books ago, I do remember it was a fascinating read, but then I’m always up for a good non-fiction book.   Of course I may be biased, but you don’t have to have a medical background to enjoy it as it was written for the average lay person.   It was evident the author was a noted historian as the book was meticulously researched and presented.   It won the National Academies of Science award for the year’s outstanding book on science or medicine and is a highly recommended read, whatever your reasons for wanting to know more about pandemics.   
At any rate it might be something interesting to read from a historical point of view, while we are all encouraged to shelter in place.    (As all the libraries are now closed here for three weeks, I note that both Amazon (book and kindle version) and the bookoutlet site have it for half price).   
I remember thinking at the time well if we do have another pandemic, we’ll be better prepared….and of course we are in some ways, but here we are again, a hundred years later, the best of modern medicine facing off against another smart wily little virus.  May science and cool heads prevail.   Stay in and stay safe! 
Coronavirus   COVID-19
    

25 thoughts on “The Literary Salon – The Great Influenza

  1. Ally Bean says:

    I don’t remember seeing this book when it was published. I remember learning about the Influenza Epidemic in school. I wonder with our constant news updates regarding Covid-19 if we will be more prepared to slow its spread or if the mortality rate will be the same as the flu epidemic in spite of our advanced communication systems? No answer yet, of course. But I’m hoping all this 24/7 news will keep us healthier.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Joni says:

      From my reading the stay home measures are designed to keep the mortality rate below 1% for those countries who legislated it soon enough. I read an interesting article yesterday by a statistician who had analyzed the various response rates of each country plus rated their health care system and number of ICU beds etc. Time will tell I guess…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jo Shafer says:

    I think I remember your writing about this book before, and bits of your history in previous posts. But I well remember the Swine Flu and the Asian Flu back before flu vaccines were widely available. Doctors limited shots to at-risk patients only. Well, I considered myself at-risk although I was much younger, then, with young children at home. I’d be down with the flu for two weeks, then barely up, down again with a relapse for two more weeks — just as you were. Horrible. Now, we are required to be vaccinated yearly.

    During this current pandemic, I’ve been thinking of the 1918 Pandemic which, also, spread worldwide. My mother had just turned three. Most of the family became ill but all survived. Horrible times then and growing into horrible times today. Well, I try to “keep calm and carry on” while realizing that “this, too, shall pass.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      I believe having had the swine flu gave people some immunity to the H1N1 2009 flu, so now I’m wondering if H1N1 immunity might grant people some cross protection from this one….something I’ll have to research. I also find it odd that there’s no antiviral medicine proving useful, although I’m not sure how helpful Tamiflu was for H1N1 perhaps shortening the duration a bit, although I did not find that with mine. If you’ve ever had a truly bad case of flu you become a believer in flu shots as you never want to go through that again!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Linda Schaub says:

    I remember your post on Uncle Charlie and went back to ensure I had read it and I had. Your photos and historical references always make your posts so interesting Joni. This pandemic was scary enough reading about it unfolding in Wuhan, but here in our own backyard it is very scary and hopefully cool heads will prevail – in our case that should have happened weeks ago and perhaps we would not be so advanced as we are now. I take some comfort knowing the mortality rate is not as bad as the regular flu or even the Spanish Flu, but here in SE Michigan we had our first death today and jumped 15 more people with the C-virus in 24 hours.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Joni says:

      We still don’t have any local cases although i believe London has a few now. But once it starts it snowballs. I was able to find TP today, but the grocery store limited to one per customer which they should have done at the beginning……now I don’t plan on going back anytime soon.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        Well, our stats jumped bigtime – now it’s really scary and governor is bringing in the National Guard to deliver medical supplies to hospitals/healthcare institutions. A week ago today it was two people infected with COVID-19 and today it is 336 and three people have died within the last two days. I will not drive too much, so I don’t have to get gas anytime soon and just do the allergist for shots in four weeks; hopefully I don’t run out of supplies but I think I’ll be fine. They have set up a time to shop for seniors (Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m.). Since the time change, that is still dark – I don’t know what constitutes a “senior” anymore – I read or hear of a range beginning at age 50. That time frame is also for persons with compromised immune systems. Hope your mom is similarly stocked up.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        we are stocked up but I may do a small grocery run tomorrow while we still don’t have any cases here. Once it’s here, I’ll be staying put. Ontario seems to have a lot of cases, but they are more Toronto way.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        I hope you got out Joni – we jumped in new cases substantially, I mean from 336 yesterday to 549 today. Will it continue to grow in leaps and bounds like this? We are not yet ordered to shelter in place like the neighboring state of Illinois. I am going to cancel my dentist appointment for May 5th when they return in April and I believe my haircut/highlights appointment on April 18th as well. I’m sorry I have to go to the allergist to be honest, but that’s another three weeks from now and I can stretch it another week after that without “demerits” … demerits meaning I have to go two weeks in a row for the shots to have adequate serum in me. Unfortunate it happens in Spring when I have the worst allergies, but what is worse – sneezing or COVID-19 symptoms?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        I did get out for my last trip, got mom stocked up with more stuff, enough for a month anyway in case I get sick – she has an extra fridge in her garage. Unfortunately, that exponential growth/jump in figures seems to be what happens if they don’t order shelter in place, as some of the carriers seem to be asymptomatic. We still don’t have a single case but they are treating it as if there are community carriers. Most of the stores are closed here except grocery/pharmacy/takeout food, so little traffic around. I see more people out walking, couples and kids. I suspect my hairdresser is probably closed. I’d keep the allergy appointment as it’s important and they will be taking precautions and cancel the rest. I don’t plan on going out to anymore stores. Will gmail you tomorrow.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        Glad you got out – I even thought in a month if I needed a small amount of items, I’d order delivery from Meijer. I always use the U-scan, though the “Shipt” delivery person would do the same but I would not get anything refrigerated as they say virus germs can linger several days on plastic wrapping … such a scary time. Yes, I agree with you. You just went recently for highlights – your stylist may still be on maternity leave. I’ve not heard if mine is closed or not. I’m not going to go either. Take your time Joni. I was lengthy I know. I’m going to stay close to home this weekend – it is going to be quite cold and the possibility of snow on Sunday into Monday. Well that’s annoying. I hope I can continue the walks as they clear my head.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        I have an appointment for bangs next week but I can cut them myself if she’s closed. My new hairdresser lives on my street so if I need a color in a month I might be able to talk her into a home visit if her salon is closed! Yes cold this weekend. I walked today but the wind was so strong it was a very short walk!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        Oh that is lucky for you having her right on your street. There was a “breaking news” alert that our governor had closed down all “self-care” establishments, specifically nail car, spas and hair salons as they could not work and still be six feet apart. That is a temporary measure they said on the news so didn’t say how long it was for. I’m cancelling mine for sure – I can shoot Jill an e-mail. I usually go April, July and October … I don’t do a Winter highlights though I did when I worked on site. I have a hat on all Winter anyway and really from October through April to be honest. It was very windy yesterday and we had some snow flurries this morning when I was out.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        we didn’t have snow but it was so cold walking today, worse than some days in the winter. -3 (-10 with windchill) but nice and sunny. It was good to get out.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. J P says:

    I think I recall reading a review of this book when it came out, but I have not read it. The topic fascinates me, and like so many others I had been kind of thinking that if another such pandemic came our way, those of us in North America would be largely spared due to our great scientific prowess. Oops.

    This semi-quarantine we all find ourselves in – how different would this have been in, say, 1985 when there was no internet. Now at least many of us can work from home and stay in easy contact with others. The downside is that there is still lots of work to be done so no extra time to get started on that stack of books I have been meaning to tackle.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      It was an interesting read from a historical point of view, but yes I’m not sure how much more advanced we are in terms of being prepared for it. Next week I’ll be posting the record review – stay tuned!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. HappyHauteHome "Home and Lifestyle Inspiration" says:

    Joni, have you seen the movie Outbreak with Dennis Hoffman? I watched it last night. It was very eye opening as to what happens or could happen behind the scenes of a pandemic. So sorry to hear you had the flu years back, I had it also about 15 years ago and that is as close to death as I remember feeling. I never went to the hospital…but just felt so miserable. Glad you recovered well.

    Liked by 1 person

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