When Spanish flu came to Marquette County, part 2

St. Luke’s Hospital in Marquette.

MARQUETTE — Last week we discussed the spread of Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 and Marquette County’s preparations before it arrived. The first case appeared in Marquette on October 17, 1918 reportedly brought to the city by healthcare workers who had gone to help with the outbreak in Newberry. Within a day, 10 people were hospitalized.

In Marquette it was impossible to keep the schools open with the number of children being kept home by their parents, so the schools were formally closed on October 22. By the end of October, the number of cases in Marquette rose, so that additional restrictions were imposed including a curfew bell rung at 8 p.m. and all children under 16 were expected to be off the streets.

Hospital officials ordered serum for vaccinations from the Mayo brothers. It was given to employees of the draft board and all the inmates at the prison as a preventative measure. In Negaunee, 300 people were inoculated by the end of October, while in Marquette, 1,500 people were vaccinated by the end of November. Ishpeming made vaccination compulsory, ordering enough serum for 12,000 people. The serum cost 10¢ per shot and with three shots required per person, the total cost was $3,600. As the number of influenza cases increased, so did demand for the vaccine. By December 5th, more than 4,000 people had been inoculated, including about 65% of the men employed in the mines.

In his annual report, issued on February 1, 1919, Dr. Drury, the Health Officer for the City of Marquette said “During the last three months of the year, we had 528 cases of influenza and thirty deaths. One-third of these deaths were among non-residents who came to the city sick. Our first cases of influenza came from Newberry; subsequent cases came from the boats, the railroad men and from surrounding camps. Finally, there was a moderate spread through the city. A ban on all public assemblies including schools was imposed for 10 weeks. Marquette’s hospital facilities and medical assistance were at all times amply sufficient for the emergency.”

Many people were terrified of catching the illness. In Luce County, a Red Cross worker reported that while helping a couple and their three children who were all sick, “Not one of the neighbors would come in and help. I…telephoned the woman’s sister. She came and tapped on the window, but refused to talk to me until she had gotten a safe distance away.”

But in other cases, people were tired of the restrictions on daily life. In November, the fear of being quarantined in their homes for a week or more caused several citizens of Negaunee to delay calling a doctor and as a result, they exposed numerous others to influenza. Prior to this, the disease had been considered to be nearly stamped out. Residents were warned that if they did not call a physician when ill, they would be prosecuted (although there were no known prosecutions).

St. Luke’s Hospital stated that it cost $21 per week to care for an influenza patient and they hired three extra graduate nurses to help during the epidemic at a cost of $385 per month. Common treatments included Foley’s Honey and other patent medicines. Camphor was believed to help prevent influenza, so many people wore a small bag of it around their neck. Locally, the price of camphor quickly jumped from $1 a pound to $5.40.

The number of influenza cases diminished by the end of December and the ban on public assemblage was lifted on Christmas Day 1918. Only the ban on holding dances was retained. It was considered too risky to allow such close personal contact.

Marquette, Ishpeming and Negaunee were credited in the newspaper with maintaining the ban on public assemblage longer than any other three cities in the United States, a total of ten weeks, although it appears that St. Louis was of a similar length [they had attempted to lift their ban for a few days in November but it was quickly re-imposed after a resurgence of cases].

Just days after the disease was considered vanquished, more cases were reported in a “second epidemic.” At the height of the second outbreak an order was made requiring the wearing of masks by all people entering places of amusement, churches, the library and clubs.

The gauze masks were made of 6-8 thicknesses of butter cloth and more layers of gauze. They had to be used properly and always worn with the outer side out. They could not be worn all day as that was believed to have been worse than no mask at all. After wearing a mask for two hours maximum, it had to be washed thoroughly with disinfectant. They also limited the number of people allowed in stores and on the street car. This order was in place for four weeks.

The second wave ended March 8, and by March 17 the “third wave” had begun. This time, at the height of the outbreak, there was a city ordinance that closed theaters and again regulated the number of people allowed in stores and other locations. This ban was only in place for a week.

Finally on May 17, 1919, influenza was gone from Marquette County and this time it stayed gone. In Marquette, the total number of cases between October 1918 and May 1919 was 1,759 with 67 deaths, 16 of which were non-residents being treated in the hospitals. Some 670,000 Americans died, with worldwide deaths during the pandemic estimated at anywhere between 25 and 100 million people. To put it in perspective, in 15 months, the Spanish flu killed more people than AIDS has killed in 40 years.

Aside from the quarantine, we now know that the precautions taken against the Spanish flu were useless. Microbes passed right through the gauze masks and the vaccines and medications were targeting a bacterium lacking the ability to see and identify, let alone deal with, the influenza virus.


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