Memoirs of a 1918 Spanish Flu Survivor

Memoirs of a Spanish Flu Survivor

Memoirs of a Spanish Flu Survivor

CNN posted a story today titled “1918 Flu Survivors Share Memories as Research Continues”, and in it, several survivors of the 1918 pandemic were interviewed.  These folks are medical curiosities not only for their age, but also for the fact that even after all this time, they still have some immunity to the Spanish flu in the form of B cells, which CNN states are immune cells that produce antibodies.

Paulano’s great uncle Oscar “O. D.” Hansen (born Aug 2, 1893, died June 19, 1987) was also a survivor of the 1918 flu pandemic.   During that time, he was in the Army, stationed at Fort Dodge, Iowa.  In his 1980 memoirs, he described his experiences:

Pill Box for H1N1 researchers, physicians, immunologists

Pill Box for H1N1 researchers, physicians, immunologists

There was a tragic thing that happened at Camp Dodge in the fall of 1918. Well, throughout the country for that matter, in the terrible death rate from the flu.  There was very little evidence of the sickness in the camp prior to one certain day.  However, one day when the flu hit the camp it did so just like a wave or a storm.  The day that they announced the flu had hit the camp there was 35 or 40 people who were already sick when I [took the] sick call [data].  I became ill myself and had quite a siege while I was in the barracks, however, I did not go to the hospital because my fever never got over 101 degrees, and they only took those with high fever to the hospital because they were so crowded.  I had a friend from Lennox, (South Dakota) who happened to be in my company at the time, his name was Elmer Gedstad, and he spent several nights helping me with cold cloths on my head and neck.  Finally, I had some bleeding in my nose and mouth, and that seemed to relieve the situation and I started recovering again.  The main part of the siege was over.  I did get to town and had an examination by a civilian doctor who assured me that I had double pneumonia.  The death rate for several weeks, or at least two or three weeks, in Camp Dodge was said to be about  85 people per day, and curiously it seemed to be the big, strong, heavy people in camp where were most likely to succumb to this malady.”

World Wide concern over the H1N1, the Swine Flu

World Wide concern over the H1N1, the Swine Flu

Somehow, O.D’s retelling of his experience makes the current situation seem little more real to me than all the media hype.  Let’s all hope that this history is not repeated.


One Response

  1. A reader sent this link,, which in part reads…

    Relief for the Armed Forces

    During World War I thousands of men were drafted and sent to temporary camps called “cantonments” before they were shipped overseas. At the cantonments conditions were often crowded and the medical facilities were rudimentary at best.

    During the influenza pandemic of 1918, some of the highest infection and mortality rates could be found in these military camps where the close quarters proved a fertile breeding ground for the virus. In order to convert the men’s barracks into temporary hospital wards the Red Cross stepped into the breach with badly needed supplies acquired through its Camp Service division. Bedding, masks, dishes, kitchen utensils, mops and brushes were purchased and turned over to the military. Hundreds of additional nurses were also recruited and supplied to the military for the emergency.

    At Camp Dodge, Iowa there were 245 nurses on duty on October 10, 1918. Six days later the number of nurses had increased to 598. This mass deployment of nurses was repeated throughout the military during the crisis. An October 1918 Red Cross Bulletin, reported that “four out of every 1,000 troops under arms in this country died” of influenza.

    I must lean heavily upon the Red Cross, and I am afraid the demands in this matter will tax your resources and endurance. Eventually the War Department will meet the requirements, but the emergency must be met by you.

    Major Burch, base hospital commander-Camp Dodge, Iowa, 1918

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