Skip to content
5 health habits that changed after the end of the influenza pandemic that devastated the world in 1918

5 health habits that changed after the end of the influenza pandemic that devastated the world in 1918

5 health habits that changed after the end of the influenza pandemic that devastated the world in 1918

It was such a traumatic event that for half a century no one wanted to remember it.

The influenza pandemic that occurred between 1918-1919 was the largest that the world suffered in the entire 20th century and one of the worst recorded in human history.

Look: Who is Fusako Shigenobu, the founder of Japan’s feared Red Army group, released after 20 years in jail

Erroneously known as “Spanish flu”, this disease caused about 25 million deaths, a figure that according to some estimates could rise to 40-50 million.

“In the United States alone, 675,000 people died, probably more. It was a huge loss, but you can’t separate it from the fact that it happened at the same time as World War I. Those two events were completely linked,” says historian Kenneth Davis , author of the book More Deadly Than War (More deadly than war), to BBC Mundo.

He adds that while the war ended in November 1918, influenza continued to kill and caused more deaths worldwide than the conflict itself.

“Life had come to a complete standstill in the United States and many other places around the world. People couldn’t go to church or move around freely, had to wear masks, etc. All the things we associate today with the current pandemic happened in 1918albeit on a different scale because the country was much less urbanized at the time.”

Society reacted, then, with a tremendous desire for “back to normality”, an idea that was in fact the campaign slogan of Warren Harding, who won the presidential elections in the United States in 1920.

“People wanted to forget the war, the pandemic and their terrible losses, but they also wanted to have fun,” says Davis, who sees a clear link between these traumas and the irruption of the mythical “roaring 20’s”, a time associated in the imaginary with Charleston, jazz and hectic nightlife.

pandemic and war brought about change in women and in the way society perceived them, because to face these events they had joined productive activities, working in factories, offices and hospitals. “It is no coincidence that it was then that the amendment that gave women the right to vote was approved in the United States,” says the historian.

Women’s participation in working life increased during the war and the pandemic.

In the case of the United States, this double trauma brought with it other controversial changes: the growth of supporters of isolationism before the world and a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan.

People thought that dangerous ideas, like the pandemic, came from abroad, so they wanted to close the country. In fact, there were people who believed that the Germans had caused the pandemic as a tactic of war. This attitude was later reflected in harsh immigration reform that restricted European immigration. They saw immigrants as dangerous, dirty and sick,” says Davis.

As for the Ku Klux Klan, he explains that its rise was due to fear on the part of the population that African-American soldiers who went to fight in the war in Europe would return to the country demanding more rights. “The growth of the Ku Klux Klan was also driven by a rejection of foreigners and immigrants, as there was a strong nativist movement in the country that reflected the isolationist trend,” he adds.

But what were the main health changes that the 1918 pandemic prompted in people’s lives?

BBC Mundo tells you about five health habits that have changed since then.

1. The use of disposable cups

Before the 1918 influenza pandemic, it was common for public buildings in the United States and train stations to have a kind of metal cup known as a “tin dipper” that was used to serve and drink water. It was the same glass for everyone, so tens or hundreds of people used it every day.

Recommendations from US health authorities during the 1918 flu pandemic. (GETTY IMAGES)

Recommendations from US health authorities during the 1918 flu pandemic. (GETTY IMAGES)

That unhygienic habit was only eradicated with the arrival of the pandemic when these metal cups were replaced by the disposable Dixie cups that have become ubiquitous since then.

Although they had been created in 1907 and were promoted as a way to protect health against germs under the name Health Kup, these disposable cups had failed to win over consumers.

with the pandemic they were renamed Dixie and aggressively promoted in advertisements as a necessary measure to protect themselves from the disease. Since then, they became a success that would be exported all over the world.

2. Cover your cough and sneeze

The habit of covering the mouth or nose with a tissue when coughing and/or sneezing was another health habit that became widespread during the influenza pandemic.

The posters were part of the information campaign that tried to control the pandemic.  Credit: HNS

The posters were part of the information campaign that tried to control the pandemic. Credit: HNS

“Coughs and sneezes spread diseases” (coughs and sneezes spread diseases) was a slogan adopted by the United States health authorities during this pandemic.

The message was printed in ads warning that gestures were “as dangerous as a poison bomb.”

3. Avoid spitting in public places

Until the arrival of the 1918 influenza pandemic, spitting in public places was seen as a socially acceptable habit.

Since the end of the 19th century, campaigns have been carried out against spitting in public places, but it was with the pandemic that this habit began to be socially frowned upon.  (GETTY IMAGES)

Since the end of the 19th century, campaigns have been carried out against spitting in public places, but it was with the pandemic that this habit began to be socially frowned upon. (GETTY IMAGES)

Although for some decades, thanks to the campaigns against tuberculosis, there had been movements in favor of its prohibition and even in some cities sanctions had been approved for those who carried out this practice, it had not been possible to eradicate it.

“They fined you $1 [equivalente a unos US$1.800 de la actualidad] if you spit on the New York subway and had to go to court. All over the country, especially in places like Philadelphia, where the pandemic had hit hard, there were signs everywhere that said: spitting spreads deathKenneth Davis says.

The historian recalls that at that time many people had the habit of chewing tobacco, so they used to spit frequently, but that after the pandemic many people became aware that spitting in public was neither recommended nor acceptable from the point of view of health. socially.

4. Ventilate spaces

Although by 1918 doctors had begun to understand that there were certain diseases that were transmitted through the air, Davis explains that there was still some confusion about how this happened.

The idea of ​​keeping windows open to prevent contagion gained a lot of momentum during the pandemic.  (GETTY IMAGES)

The idea of ​​keeping windows open to prevent contagion gained a lot of momentum during the pandemic. (GETTY IMAGES)

“If you were on a streetcar in a city like Philadelphia or New York and it was cold, you didn’t want to have the windows open and, furthermore, there were some doctors who recommended keeping them closed because they feared that the viruses would spread through the air. And so it was, but more through breathing and proximity and not through the wind,” says Davis.

The subject of keeping windows open or closed was a hot topic of debate among doctors. It was eventually understood that fresh air and sunshine were actually good for patients, but for a long time the practice was to close the windows. When there was a sick person, they were locked in a room, they were covered with blankets and they often ended up dehydrated from fever. Sometimes the cure was worse than the disease,” he adds.

But in 1918-1919, the idea of ​​keeping the windows open to avoid contagion gained great force. “Keep the windows of your room open! Avoid influenza, pneumonia and tuberculosis,” said posters that were then placed on public transport.

5. A heater under the window

The practice of opening windows to keep rooms airy led to another practice that transformed American home design: placing a steel heater under the windows.

After the pandemic, the idea of ​​placing the heater under a window became very popular.  (COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF OREGON LIBRARY)

After the pandemic, the idea of ​​placing the heater under a window became very popular. (COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF OREGON LIBRARY)

Since the health authorities recommended keeping the windows open even on the coldest winter days, the engineers looked for ways to keep the rooms warm even in those circumstances and the result was to place the radiator in that place. A practice that continues to this day.

They placed the heater under the window because they thought that would be the most effective way to heat the cold air. coming through it,” says Davis.

A last health habit that was launched during the influenza pandemic was the use of masks, although this did not continue over time.

The historian points out that these were a bit “primitive” compared to those in use today. People were expected to make them at home out of layers of gauze or cloth and wash them after use before putting them back on.

“Clearly they weren’t as effective as an N95 and few people bothered to make them and wash them properly,” says Davis.

However, there were very successful cases such as in San Francisco, where the authorities applied strict regulations on the use of masks and managed to maintain a low rate of infections and deaths.

“Then they relaxed the norm and they had a big increase in deaths because people didn’t want to put their masks back on after they had already stopped using them. They refused using many of the same arguments we hear now. But it was very clear that the masks were very effective in places where their use was required, “he says.

Although these public health habits were incorporated into daily life from the learning obtained during the 1918 pandemic, Davis points out that the trauma caused by it was so great that, at least in the US, that episode was left out of the debate. public for decades and that it was not until half a century later that the scientific community wanted to revisit the subject.

“American society went through something terrible that it didn’t want to repeat, but also didn’t want to think about, and I think that’s why this pandemic was long forgotten.” Davis says.

“While I was writing my book, I met many families who told me that they knew that their grandmother had died of the flu, but that nobody knew much about it because it was a topic that was not talked about. It was as if it was a dangerous family secret that you wanted to hide.. And that was how the Spanish flu was treated for almost half a century,” he concludes.

Source: Elcomercio

Share this article:
globalhappenings news.jpg
most popular