It was more than 100 years ago, but looking back at the last major pandemic to encircle the globe in light of the current CORONA-19 outbreak, we can see that our great-grand parents were just about as prepared then as we seem to be now, despite all the advances we have made.
Although there are many differences in how this super-flu caught the world off guard at the end of the Great War, there are also similarities which should have been learned from.
By 1919, the Spector of Death finally passed over Brantford, Brant County and Six Nations, the Spanish Flu left more than 400 dead, many of them young and otherwise healthy.
Scientists and World Health Organization (WHO) investigators believe the virus began in Northern China after an infected bat was served up as a meal bringing the pathogen with it. Although repulsive to the western mind and pallet, it is not uncommon in that part of the world to be frying up, and eating bats. This time, however, the virus managed to jump from animal to human, creating a unique new form of super-flu known as CORONA-19.
In contrast, the Spanish Flu spread worldwide following the War as soldiers, some of then already sick with the highly contagious virus, went home to their families friends and participated in mass celebrations where it spread like wildfire.
Here in Brantford, and region, more than 3,000 people suddenly fell ill, completely overwhelming the doctors and nurses at the Brantford General Hospital. A portable emergency hospital was set up near the Brantford Armouries where Tom Thumb Park now marks, to take all Spanish Flu cases to lessen the strain on overworked BGH medical staff. It took only days to fill the makeshift hospital to capacity.
Some 235 of Brantford’s returning veterans were among the first wave of the pandemic, having missed a German bullet in the trenches for an invisible enemy when they got home. Then, the virus turned on the caregivers, starting with 28-year-old nurse-in-training, Pearl Van Valkenburg on Oct. 18th, 1918. Then, Dr. L.G. Pearce fell after suffering only one week of the flu. Dr. Alpheus Lovett followed closely after opening the flood gate as more nurses and health-care workers fell ill and died in batches.
In all, two physicians, seven nurses or nurses-in-training died while giving aid to the afflicted and dozens more were too sick to work.
Even though medical science has certainly grown a great deal since the early 1900’s, here we are, 100-years later, dealing with the same fear and shock that our great-grand parents went through, but this time it shouldn’t have been such a surprise.