1918-1919 Influenza Epidemic - CSPM

1918-1919 Influenza Epidemic

Grace Coolidge described leaving Denver to escape the 1918 Influenza outbreak: …The children & I have been here going on 5 weeks as the schools are all closed tight in Denver & strange to say there is no flu in Manitou. Nellie has had it quite badly & Denver generally has had a pretty severe time. So have lots of the small towns in Colo. …I only wish you & all the children were here. It is so safe & delightful…

– From the CSPM Curator of History

First cases were at Colorado College among the Student Army Training Corps. Ticknor Hall was made an influenza infirmary, and 8 students and 1 instructor died.

The YWCA Building was also made an influenza hospital under Red Cross supervision and accommodated 176 patients in December.

Two vaccines – one from the Mayo Clinic in October, and a second prepared by the City Chemist using material from Chicago’s Cook County Hospital – were brought to be used here.

The shutdown of public gatherings was continued until closing regulations were relaxed on December 22.

Colorado Springs fared far better than many cities. Philadelphia, as a leading example, had high overall and daily death rates with 500 bodies, stacked, awaiting burial on Sept. 10. With 485 police officers and 850 telephone employees sick, city services essentially shut down. There is new evidence that the rapidity of shutdown in 1918 was related to how well a city did. Thus Colorado Springs perhaps owes more to Dr. George Gilmore, its 1918 Health Officer, than before realized.

With the arrival of 1919, the pandemic waned in Colorado Springs, still with 58 deaths that year. On into the twentieth century the causative influenza virus was identified, studied, and the knowledge so gained used to make drugs to treat acute influenza illness and to make vaccines to prevent epidemics. Small genetic changes in the virus were identified which make annual vaccination with material altered to counter those changes necessary. So far, there has not been another influenza pandemic, but the disease regularly occurs as random cases in the population causing some 410,000 hospitalizations and 24,000 deaths annually and also flares as occasional larger epidemics.

Although it was not influenza, another pandemic did arrive in Colorado Springs 102 years later. Covid-19 came to Colorado Springs in March, 2020.

Generously Submitted by Dr. Darryl Thatcher, CSPM Volunteer Educator

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