H1N1...it could be worse

By Bob Hallmark - bio | email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - email

LONGVIEW, TX (KLTV) - It's been called one of the most devastating epidemics in recorded world history. It was the influenza pandemic of 1918. So, when you compare it to the H1N1 outbreak today this new virus is not even close to having the same effect.

Some East Texans remember the 1918 flu pandemic and how it affected a staggering "one in every three people". Over 600,000 Americans, and over 50,000,000 world-wide died from the influenza outbreak in 1918-1919.

"It was horribly devastating," said Dr. Lewis Browne M.D. with the Gregg County Health Department. "There were people who got the flu and within three days they were dead. That flu, for years, was thought to be a swine flu. We now know it was an avian flu."

Erile Mathis was a child during the outbreak, and remembers the fear that it created.

"[I] remember my parents talking about it, how many people died with it and how fearful people were of getting it you know," said Mathis.

But medicine has come along way since then. One problem during 1918, was adequate treatment.

"In 1918 and 1919 no antibiotics [were] available at all, in 1918-19 no anti-viral drugs available at all," said Browne.

Newspaper headlines of the day were filled with reports of the dead and dying. Browne said there's no comparison to today.

"To call it a pandemic - to call it that is a little bit excessive because we're not having thousands of cases or millions of cases," explained Browne.

It was a gruesome reality in 1918, so many died that Mathis said there weren't enough coffins.

Could 1918 happen again in this country?

"I do think that, as far as how devastating that influenza was world wide, that can not happen again because we will have treatments," said Browne.

Dr. Browne said one thing that is forgotten about 1918 is that most victims "did not" die from the flu, but from the side effects such as pneumonia and hemorrhaging of the lungs.

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