The Collective Picture

Vintage Photography Redefined

admin On May - 6 - 2009

The swine flu or H1N1 virus has quickly become a global health crisis, as of 6 May 2009, 22 countries have officially reported 1516 cases. With this type of profound impact the media outlets have swarmed our lives with this disease, spreading fear that some would argue is disproportionate to the threat. There are many other illnesses that have larger death tolls to their credit, but they don’t have the shiny new breaking story feel that swine flu does. So at the end of the day we hear about H1N1 or swine flu on every news channel and not about AIDS or cholera. As scientists scramble to understand the spread of this flu and health officials attempt to reassure its citizens it is the lessons from the past that are providing guidance. We rely on experiences from previous outbreaks to guide us through, such as the procedures put in place to stem the spread of the bird flu. Others, including scientists, are looking to examples farther back in history to inform the responses taken today such as looking at the Spanish flu of 1918. The lessons learned in this tragedy have warned against celebrating too quickly over decreasing rates of infection and death. The Spanish flu also appeared in the spring in a form that was relatively manageable. It affected populations already vulnerable to illnesses such as the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, while the healthy and young seemed to recover quickly from symptoms that closely resembled a more typical flu. It was only later that year that the disease reemerged in a mutated form; it was this strain that caused the devastatingly high infection and mortality rates around the world. The photos collected here show a glimpse of this time period, where like today, the world of 1918 was wrapped in fear over the spread of the flu. These images provide insight into the history that has informed our understandings of and reactions to the spread of disease.

Flu1 1024x787 Swine or spanish, influenza in 1918 and todaymedical

Although people dutifully wore masks, these provided only a very limited protection against the influenza virus. Credit: Office of the Public Health Service Historian]

Army hospital patient during Influenza epidemic 1024x711 Swine or spanish, influenza in 1918 and todaymedical

U. S. Army Hospital Number 30, Royat, France Patients at moving picture show wearing masks because of an influenza epidemic. Images from the History of Medicine (NLM). The National Library of Medicine believes this item to be in the public domain.

Sp flu alberta field Swine or spanish, influenza in 1918 and todaymedical

Men in an Alberta field wear masks during the Spanish flu, Fall 1918. Credit: Library and Archives Canada.

Spanish flu death chart Swine or spanish, influenza in 1918 and todaymedical

The Spanish Influenza. Chart showing mortality from the 1918 influenza pandemic in the US and Europe.Pandemic Influenza: The Inside Story. Nicholls H, PLoS Biology Vol. 4/2/2006, e50

Chicago Poster 1918 688x1024 Swine or spanish, influenza in 1918 and todaymedical

Local health departments warned those who were ill to stay away from theaters and other public places. [Chicago : Dept. of Health, 1918?]. Images from the History of Medicine (NLM).

1918 flu outbreak2 1024x764 Swine or spanish, influenza in 1918 and todaymedical

1918. Demonstration at the Red Cross Emergency Ambulance Station in Washington, D.C., during the influenza pandemic of 1918.” Library of Congress. National Photo Company.

1918 flu in Oakland Swine or spanish, influenza in 1918 and todaymedical

1918 flu epidemic: the Oakland Municipal Auditorium in use as a temporary hospital. The photograph depicts volunteer nurses from the American Red Cross tending influenza sufferers in the Oakland Auditorium, Oakland, California, during the influenza pandemic of 1918. Photo by Edward A. “Doc” Rogers. From the Joseph R. Knowland collection at the Oakland History Room, Oakland Public Library.

1917-1918_Red_Cross_ takes_food_to_family_with_"flu"

1917 – ca. 1919. American Red Cross canteens, United States. “Taking food to the [African American] family all down with the “Flu” at Charlotte, North Carolina. They found the mother had just died.” Mrs. Ralph Van Landingham, Mrs. Camson Morrison, Miss Julia Baxter Scott. Still Picture Records Section, Special Media Archives Services Division (NWCS-S), National Archives

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Categories: medical

2 Responses

  1. Braxton Hicks says:

    Excellent article. I confirmed what I suspected…the mask doesn’t do a whole lot.

  2. J. W. says:

    the masks may not be all that functional but at least they make for some interesting photos and quite a fashion statement, I just saw a woman outside my building (downtown Vancouver, Canada) wearing one.

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