called it Spanish Flu although no one knew for sure where it originated.
It first appeared on military bases in the spring of 1918. It spread
wildly in barracks packed with soldiers, cruelly killing brave young
men who had miraculously survived trench warfare in Europe. It arrived
unseen at military facilities in San
Antonio and made the short jump to the Texas
Hill Country that fall.
When it first appeared in Gillespie
County just about everyone mistook it for seasonal flu, but this
stuff packed a wallop. Victims died at an alarming rate - in rare
cases only hours after developing symptoms. The local Committee on
Health and Sanitation warned "The malady comes very sudden to a serious
state, and if you don't take good care, pneumonia will develop which
is fatal in most cases."
On October 18, 1918, County Health Officer Dr. Victor Keidel reported
175 cases of Spanish Flu "but taking into consideration that a number
of cases exist that are not reported to the authorities, it is calculated
that prevalent cases will easily reach 200."
No one knows for sure how many Gillespie
County citizens died of complications from Spanish Flu. It was
not unusual to see several flu deaths per week listed on the front
page of the Fredericksburg Standard throughout the fall and
winter of 1918 and again in the fall and winter of 1919. In at least
one case the disease wiped out an entire family.
Flu spread person to person by droplets ejected from the mouth when
infected people coughed, sneezed or even talked. An infected person
with mild symptoms, or no symptoms at all, could unknowingly infect
County health officials focused on prevention as much as treatment.
Dr. Keidel ordered that all influenza patients be quarantined. He
told families to stay at home, and avoid all unnecessary contact with
others. 'At funerals, no services in the house from which it (the
flu) takes place." If one had to be around others, keep your distance
"to allow the fresh air to pass freely between." While indoors with
others, stay in a well-ventilated room. "Have all laundry of the sick
person boiled," and "bedding and other clothing should be sunned for
several hours on the clothesline."
Dr. Keidel told people not to panic "but act with prudence and good
common sense." Don't put yourself or others at risk. Stay at home.
If you must go out, cover your mouth and keep your distance. And if
you catch a cold, "treat it with respect."
Good advice, but it wasn't easy to follow. Spanish Flu didn't play
fair. How could it be that shaking hands, hugging or even talking
to a neighbor could be dangerous? Socializing, for humans, is like
breathing. It's at the core of what it means to be human. To avoid
socializing went against human nature.
The disease taxed medical personnel to the limit. By March 1919 so
many local Red Cross workers were down with the flu, there was "a
shortage of nurses to care for the sick."
Schools and churches closed from time to time when the disease was
especially active. The Gillespie County Commissioners' Court banned
all public gatherings when the Committee on Health and Sanitation
thought it necessary. The Fredericksburg
and Northern Railroad kept running, but the company disinfected
passenger cars after every run.
In February 1920, with soaring infection rates causing fear of another
wave of sickness and death, the Gillespie County Commissioners' Court
issued an order of quarantine. The Fredericksburg Standard
noted that "sick people from other places kept coming to Fredericksburg
and therefore an order was passed to stop outsiders from coming in."
The order authorized the Gillespie County Sheriff to maintain the
quarantine for as long as the county health office "may deem necessary."
Finally in the spring of 1920 the spread of Spanish Flu slowed in
part because a third of humanity had already been infected. But it
never went away completely. Hill Country people still talk about it.
And there are uncanny parallels between the Spanish Flu outbreak of
1918-1919 and another deadly pandemic 100 years later.
| © Michael
1, 2021 Column
"The Flu Situation," Fredericksburg Standard, February 14,
"Committee on Health and Sanitation," Fredericksburg Standard,
October 19, 1918.