In reviewing what worked during the pandemic, many present-day health authorities point the importance of city authorities quickly instituting “social distancing.” Those municipal health authorities that acted early and instituted quarantines, public closings and banned public gatherings had lower infection and death rates. In addition, good nursing was held to be the main factor in determining whether a patient would survive the disease. When faced with a disease that the medical world had no drug or vaccine to fight it, the importance of having nurses to keep the patient fed and comfortable became paramount to survival. It is interesting that a pandemic that killed so many people was quickly forgotten by those who lived through it. Some historians believe that is because it didn’t kill a major world leader or a famous individual. Woodrow Wilson came down with the virus at the Paris Peace Conference, but survived. Perhaps if he had died from the illness, the pandemic would have figured more heavily in history books.
Another theory why many forgot the Spanish Influenza so quickly is that people died of many epidemics during the 19th and early 20th century. In addition, most victims of epidemics died at home, not in hospitals so it was not as unusual to see family members die of disease in 1918 as it would seem today. Finally, many saw the Spanish Influenza as one more byproduct of a senseless war that had killed a whole generation of young men. It was the war that loomed large in people’s memories, not a disease that seemed to accompany it. Interest in the Spanish Influenza of 1918 only spiked again during the H5N1 virus outbreak. Suddenly many health organizations were studying the epidemic to determine what lessons might be learned to help in the eventuality of another flu virus pandemic. Officials noted that government health organizations are far more organized to fight pandemics today. Vaccines and antivirals help diminish the onslaught of secondary bacterial infections, such as pneumonia. A better educated public exists today and knows how to institute “social distancing.”
One factor that was discussed during a workshop on the 1918 Pandemic was the fact that health authorities were not always completely honest with the public. In 1918 health officials and newspaper editors downplayed the actual threat to the public’s health in an effort to stave off panic. Certainly all would agree that it is important that Government Health officials and the media should report the truth to the public, but after watching modern media outlets become almost hysterical over each new epidemic, perhaps they could borrow a warning from the 1918 Dallas Morning News, that “being scared is, itself, a disease.”