Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Great Flu Epidemic of 1918 in the South

There is a great deal of discussion this week on the national news about the possibility of a new flu pandemic, which basically means there is a fear of a flu outbreak that could spread across large areas of the world.

If you've watched any of this coverage, you have likely heard mention of the Great Flu Epidemic of 1918. Also called the Spanish Flu Epidemic, this outbreak killed between 500,000 and 650,000 Americans and millions of people worldwide.

In the South, it was a horrendous human disaster of a magnitude almost unimaginable today. In Birmingham, Alabama, for example, it was reported that as many as 26,000 people were sick in a single week. In Virginia, health officials estimated as many as 200,000 people were bedridden with the flu in that same week.

The death toll was schocking. In Georgia, for example, there were 514 deaths in October of 1918 alone, and that number only included people able to make it to the hospital or a doctor. The situation was so bad that the town of Quitman even went so far as to ban church services.

Virginia reported 15,678 deaths from flu in 1919, the year after the main outbreak.

In addition to its human toll, the epidemic devastated the economy of the South. Businesses closed, food supplies were interrupted and misery spread that would only deepen with the arrival of the Great Depression ten years later.

To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fluepidemic1.

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