Friday, October 31, 2014

The Personal Side of the Influenza Pademic of 1918.

Peter Noznick about 3 years old.

In my last post, I wrote about the Influenza Pandemic of 1918.  This week, I will discuss the human side of the epidemic.  It is very easy to get caught up in the immensity of the epidemic, the huge number of deaths, the quick spread of the disease.  Since it took place 96 years age, most of the people affected have passed on. How did the flu affect families?  I know from my family history that the effect of the pandemic was devastating and long lasting.

Joseph Koshuba, about 2 years before he died.

In my extended family there were two people who died during the time period of the Pandemic of 1918-1919.  One was my husband’s aunt, Mollie Karbovsky.  The other was my great uncle, Joseph Koshuba.  I learned about Millie’s death from my mother-in-law.  It was more difficult to find anything out about Joseph Koshuba’s death, because I did not know any family members who could give me information. He died on January 19, 1919, at the age of 33. The date of the death and his age made  influenza a possible cause of his death. So, I got a copy of his death certificate from the Minnesota History Center.  I found that the cause of death was myocarditis. I still could not rule out the flu, since myocarditis is caused by a viral or bacterial infection that reaches the heart.  Many people died from secondary infections caused by the flu.  Later, when I met his granddaughters, they told me that he had heart disease.  My assumption was wrong.  I have to say that when working on family history, always look for documentation to back up family stories and assumptions.  

Mollie Karbovski’s death from the flu was easier research.  My mother-in-law, told me that she died during the Pandemic.  Her death was October 15, 1918. Mollie was ten years old when the flu reached Peoria in late September, and was declared an epidemic October 11. Her death certificate did not have any information about cause of her death.  She was buried in Jewish Cemetery in Peoria, but this cemetery is no longer used, and many people who were buried there were reburied in another cemetery.  In some areas, there were so many deaths during the epidemic that undertakers ran out of coffins, and gravediggers were too sick to dig graves.  Again, this was early in the Pandemic, so I do not know if this affected her burial.

Mollie and William Karbovski.

Rose, Mollie’s mother, was pregnant when Mollie died.  From my research, I found that pregnant women had a high mortality rate during the 1918-19 Pandemic.  Rose survived, and gave birth to Lillian on October 25.  How did Rose avoid the flu?  She was 31, in the age group that was heavily affected, and she was pregnant. I found that people who had a bout of the flu early in 1918 had immunity, and did not get the mutated version of the virus that caused the wave that spread in the fall.  It is also possible that she had the Russian Flu of 1889-90, the first pandemic of modern times. People over 30 may have had some immunity to the flu if they contracted the Russian Flu. Rose successfully delivered Lillian, and had another child four years later.   

Peter Noznick about the time he had his surgery.

Peter Noznick, my father also contracted the flu in 1918.  He was three years old and survived.  He recovered from the flu, however the secondary infection he developed affected his entire life.  The flu led to an ear infection, which spread to the mastoid, the part of the skull behind the ear.  There were no antibiotics in 1918; today children in the United States rarely get mastioditis.  The only treatment available for chronic mastoiditis in those days was surgery.  In 1930, my father and his family moved from New York City to Connecticut.  Since they did not have the money to pay for surgery in Connecticut, my father returned to New York City. Staying with relatives and using their address, he managed to have the surgery at Bellevue Hospital.  He made the trip alone, and spent several weeks in the hospital waiting for the only surgeon who did that type of surgery to be available. While he was waiting, several men in the ward died from the surgery.  He survived, and returned to Connecticut. As a result of mastoiditis and the surgery, he was deaf in one ear for the rest of his life.  In later life, he suffered from Parkinson’s Disease.  Some have theorized that some people who had the flu during the 1918 Pandemic developed symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease.  From what I have read, some studies showed a link, and others did not.   

The Flu is still dangerous today—we still have pandemics, but since the flu shot, they are not as catastrophic as the Flu Pandemic of 1918.