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The most deadly epidemic to ever strike the United States occurred in 1918. As America prepared for war, a soldier at an Army fort in Kansas reported to the base hospital with flu-like symptoms. There, he was diagnosed as having a strain of flu that was called Spanish Influenza (since it was erroneously believed the strain had originated in Spain). Before the year was out, 675,000 Americans would die from the flu -- more than the total of all Americans to die in all wars in the 20th century. The 1918 strain of flu created not just an epidemic -- but a global pandemic causing 25,000,000 deaths. In the U.S., the epidemic's worst month October, when almost 200,000 Americans died from the virus. October 1918 was also the month the flu epidemic hit Georgia, as detailed by the following chronology:
October 1 Augusta's Camp Hancock experienced an outbreak of the Spanish influenza then sweeping the nation. On the previous day only two soldiers had been in the infirmary. On this day, 716 showed up with flu-like symptoms--and it would get worse.
October 2 The Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918-19 had now hit Georgia. At Camp Gordon, also near Augusta, the second day of the outbreak saw 138 soldiers with the deadly flu, ten of which had already died of pneumonia.
October 5 Four days after the initial breakout of two cases of Spanish influenza, Augusta's Camp Hancock reported 3000 cases of flu. Already, 52 soldiers had died of the disease. Furthermore, the epidemic had now spread off base with 47 cases reported in the Augusta area.
October 7 Acting upon a recommendation from the U.S. Public Health Service, the Atlanta City Council declared all public gathering places closed for two months as a precautionary measure against the epidemic of Spanish influenza sweeping the nation. This ban included schools, libraries, churches, and theaters. Street cars were directed to keep all windows open -- except in rain. In a precautionary move, the University of Georgia announced it was indefinitely suspending classes. Back in Augusta, where the epidemic was most active, military officials on this day ordered soldiers to sleep under the stars, and by now everyone was wearing gauze masks during the day. No one was allowed on base except close relatives, and soldiers were restricted from going to Atlanta without a special pass.
October 8 W.H. White, Jr., president of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, urged landlords not to evict those infected with Spanish influenza, saying they had no authority to do so and added that any such evictions be reported to his office. That same day all Fulton County school children reported to class, got their books and some final instructions, then were sent home for the duration of the public gathering ban announced the previous day.
October 9 Precautionary measures against the spread of Spanish influenza in Atlanta seemed to be working as few new cases were reported. Meanwhile, the flu epidemic continued to spread through the country.
October 10 Atlanta remained relatively healthy as only 105 new cases of Spanish influenza were reported, with only eight deaths in the past week. These numbers were far fewer than those in other East Coast cities of similar size.
October 11 Spanish influenza cases remained relatively low in Atlanta, while the University of Georgia announced classes would resume October 21. Classes had been suspended October 7 as a precaution against the Spanish flu epidemic.
October 12 As fears of Spanish influenza abated and victory neared for allied forces in World War I, a Liberty Loan parade was held. It was a solemn affair, paying tribute to the many who had died in the war effort. At the same time the Atlanta Constitution reported much of the rest of the nation was not so lucky with the flu epidemic claiming significantly more lives than German bullets in Europe.
October 13 Atlanta city health officer Dr. J.P. Kennedy announced the public gathering ban would last at least one more week. It had originally been instituted for two months, but the Spanish influenza epidemic was not hitting Atlanta as severely as the rest of the country. With "only" 750 deaths, Atlanta would get off light from a worldwide epidemic that would kill 675,000 Americans--more deaths than resulted from World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War combined. Globally, 40 million people died in just 18 months.
October 15 The Spanish influenza epidemic sweeping the nation hit Macon, with 250 new cases reported in the previous 48 hours. A new preventative measure also appeared on the streets of Macon -- "flu masks", which basically were cloth masks with small eye, nose, and mouth holes. Camp Gordon ended its military quarantine, which had been in place for several weeks due to the flu epidemic. But the scare was not over -- Maj. Joel B. Mallett, selective service officer for Georgia, instructed all local boards of health to cease physical exams for new military registrants until further notice - - effectively stemming the draft (albeit temporarily). While this was ordered as a preventative measure against the flu, it also was possible because Allied armies were on the brink of defeating Germany at the time.
October 16 The Atlanta Constitution reported that the Red Cross was calling for local volunteers to construct 40,000 'flu masks' for patrons at the Southeastern Fair Association, then being held in Atlanta. Patrons were required to wear the masks to attend the fair, under a regulation adopted by the State Board of Health. The Red Cross also announced it was immediately opening a school of nursing in Atlanta, to teach elementary hygiene and home nursing to people to help with home emergencies brought on by the flu epidemic. Meanwhile Governor Hugh Dorsey called for a meeting of the State Board of Health to discuss statewide preventative measures. Still Atlanta had not been hit by the epidemic as badly as most cities its size; only 500 new cases had been reported in the previous week, most of them mild.
October 17 Medical authorities reported 209 new cases of Spanish influenza in Atlanta, still far less than most comparable cities. By now the flu had appeared in every state but was deadliest along the eastern seaboard.
October 18 The State Board of Health met and recognized the seriousness of the Spanish influenza epidemic. Along with federal health authorities present a resolution was passed allowing an executive committee of the State Board to take whatever actions necessary to control the disease wherever it might appear in Georgia. A report on new cases in the previous 24 hours was given -- statewide there had been 2,749 new cases, with 48 deaths. Hardest hit was Cartersville, with almost 1000 new cases the previous day.
October 20 There was a slight decrease in the number of new cases of Spanish influenza reported statewide.
November 4 - The few remaining quarantines at Camp Gordon were lifted as fears of the Spanish influenza epidemic waned. Concern with flu was not slowing the war effort, as 1,000 Atlanta women met at the Capital City Club to begin a new United War Work campaign, as Germany's last ally --Austria-Hungary -- had surrendered, and Germany itself was reeling.
November 5 Fulton County public schools were re-opened
after having been closed to help prevent the spread of Spanish influenza.
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